DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto County School Central Services building

The DeSoto County School District (DCS) has been asked again by a Wisconsin group to stop what it terms “unconstitutional prayer” at school functions. 

The group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Madison, Wisconsin, last month wrote DCS Supt. Cory Uselton to ask the district take steps to ensure prayer is not scheduled at school functions. 

Associate counsel Sam Grover wrote in the letter to Uselton, dated June 20, that district students had reached out to the organization regarding what he termed several “constitutional violations” that took place in district schools during the last school year.

Specifically, Grover cited reports of what he said was “scheduled prayer” at a May 14 Olive Branch High School senior breakfast that “began with the class president using a microphone to ‘say grace’ by asking all attendees to ‘bow your heads and close your eyes,’ and then recited a prayer.”

Grover said one of those who complained said there was no option provided to allow people to leave the room while the prayer was recited.

He went on to cite a similar report of a prayer said at a Hernando High School senior breakfast at the Landers Center during school hours.

The FFRF associate counsel also wrote it has received complaints of students being allowed to lead prayer over the public address system before Olive Branch High School home football games.  

Grover noted that Supreme Court rulings have determined that it is illegal, inappropriate and unconstitutional for public schools to broadcast prayers at athletic events. He went on to cite other decisions stating that no school-sponsored event may include scheduled prayer, stating that having the activity would allow attendees to perceive that religion and Christianity in particular was being endorsed by the school or school district.  

Grover concluded the June letter by asking steps be taken to ensure prayer is not scheduled at future DCS-sponsored events and that Uselton detail back to FFRF what steps it is taking in that regard.  

This is not the first time the foundation has contacted the DeSoto County School District about prayer in activities.

Then-Supt. Milton Kuykendall received a letter from FFRF in 2011 about prayer being said before football games at DCS schools. A board policy was approved that prevented a pre-game prayer being recited over the loudspeaker.

Another board policy had been passed in 2008 addressing Prayer in Schools.

However, fans seized the opportunity that fall to pray outside the stadiums or in the stands recite the Lord’s Prayer after the National Anthem and before the start of the game.  

Kuykendall also had to deal with another complaint that year from the group about Bibles being distributed by Gideons at two district elementary schools.  

Uselton was asked about the most recent communication from FFRF and responded in a statement, “We have board policies in place that protect students’ constitutional right to pray, and we will continue to follow those policies.”

When contacted Friday morning, Grover said he had not received a response from the school district about the June letter.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.  

(1) comment


We appreciate people so far away being interested in our politics and our constitutional rights. There is always an option to not listen or to go to a part of the complex where the rest of us are not praying. The United States began as place where people could worship God. Our country began with people who were discriminated against because they wanted to worship God and not government. Separation of church and state was a novel concept, yet in the proven examples and countless witnesses, the morals from church and the impact of the church is the reason every town and city is not like Milwaukee or other comparable cities that are struggling with crime and school attendance and dropout rates. FFRF are not serious about improving our nation. Foundations that are serious about real change support causes to increase school attendance, decrease violence and crime and incarceration rates, and work to improve family dynamics. If we need help here in Desoto County FFRF please start there.

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