Letter: Tenn. student-led game-day prayers constitutional

Alliance Defending Freedom educates, equips officials on how to protect students’ free speech
Friday, October 11, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Alliance Defending Freedom sent all Tennessee school districts a letter Thursday about the constitutionality of student-initiated, student-led prayers at the beginning of football games. The letters come on the heels of an ACLU of Tennessee letter, also sent to the districts, that complained about the prayers.

“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said Legal Counsel Matthew Sharp. “Rather than prohibiting prayer, as the ACLU demands, schools have the choice to set aside a time for a student to present a pre-game message. Regardless of whether the student chooses to give a pep talk, read a poem, or pray, that’s the student’s own speech, and the First Amendment protects it.”

Earlier this month, the ACLU sent school districts throughout Tennessee a letter that warned schools against sponsoring prayer at football games. The ACLU letter made misleading statements about the constitutionality of student-led prayer, leaving school officials with the unmistakable impression that prayer is never permitted at school functions.

The Alliance Defending Freedom letter explains that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that “nothing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.”

The letter also notes that, “Within a neutral forum, student-initiated, student-led prayers at sporting events are private speech.” Accompanying the letter is a model policy that school districts can adopt to create an opportunity for students to give a pre-game message, religious or otherwise.

“The Constitution should be the only permission slip students need to exercise their freedom of speech,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Public schools should not cave in to the ACLU’s unwarranted demands. Instead, they should amend their policies, if necessary, so that they fully protect the free speech rights of students.”
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS'-ko)
 
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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