By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
October 17, 2014
THOMASVILLE – Samantha Warwick and Andrea Francis, students at Ledford High School in Thomasville, played in the school’s band. One evening during an away game at East Davidson High, they were inspired when they discovered that school’s practice was to have a pre-game prayer. Shortly thereafter, Samantha and Andrea made their way to the Principal’s office at Ledford to suggest the same for their school. The Principal was in full support, and pre-game invocations were implemented and practiced for a full year.
Then a letter arrived from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist group, claiming the practice was unconstitutional and threatening to sue the school system if it continued. The correspondence precipitated a meeting between Samantha, Andrea, their parents and Ledford High School’s principal, who explained Davidson County Schools, could no longer allow them use of the PA system for a pre-game prayer. They would only be allowed a moment of silence.
Broken hearted by the news and rightly feeling their religious liberties were infringed upon, Samantha, Andrea, and others took to communicating their disappointment via social media and other means.
Abbots Creek Missionary Baptist Church’s pastor, Mark Hollar, got word of the matter and was soon meeting with a number of local clergies to organize a peaceful protest. On Friday, October 3rd, hundreds of people that included students, parents, staff at Ledford, and other schools represented from throughout the county, marched onto Ledford High School’s home-field before a football game. They formed an oval covering more than a quarter mile, stood stalwartly together, nearly shoulder to shoulder, holding hands with heads bowed in reverence and recited in unison the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our parents and our students have the freedom to be here,” said Hollar, “And, they will pray.”
Samantha reportedly told the news station, WGHP, she was saddened by the school system’s response. “I’m kind of disappointed that someone would try to take something that so many students were in support of.” But she added that they wanted to “handle this in a godly manner.”
According to The-Dispatch.com, since the protest, both Samantha and Pastor Hollar spoke before the Davidson County Board of Education meeting on Monday night of last week. They asked school officials for a full restoration of students’ rights to pray.
Samantha told the Board, “I would like to say last year we began prayer before a football game with the OK from the school administration…Most students were in favor of it…We have not tried to force this down anyone’s throat. We’ve been mindful of it. It’s not mandatory that you come to football games…But my personal belief is that if we want to pray we should be able to just as in any other religious group can do the same…It is upsetting that so many students were in favor of this and its been taken away from us. If you would carefully consider the decision that we could continue this at the football games it would be greatly appreciated. And I would like to end by saying God is good all the time and all the time God is good.”
She tells the Christian Action League no one at the Board of Education meeting spoke in opposition to the pre-game prayers, and the response she got from members of the Board during the meeting were simply blank stares.
Pastor Mark Hollar expressed to the Board he believed the students had a right to pray. “I have no personal desire for anything other than to be sure that these students who I pastor, who came to me and asked for my spiritual counsel, will have the privilege and right afforded to them in the Constitution…”
After the meeting, Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent of Davidson County Schools, defended the Board of Education’s decision. She said the Board was relying on the Supreme Court case, Santa Fe Independent School District vs. Roe. In that case, Morrow claims student-led, and student-initiated prayers at a high school football game violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.
“I don’t think Dr. Morrow is interpreting that case correctly,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “In that case, the court’s finding in 2000 was that public school officials were controlling the content of the message over the PA and also assuring the message would always include a prayer. Nevertheless, in that very case the high court was clear that ‘nothing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day.’ The Court also said the First Amendment doesn’t prohibit all religious activity in the public schools. I think if the Board of Education will look closely at the details of that case, it will become apparent the court ruled that if the state remains neutral, the students may pray. From my understanding, this is what you have at Ledford. Therefore, it’s constitutional,” he said.
Creech also noted that North Carolina’s General Assembly sought to clarify these constitutional rights when it passed Senate Bill 370 – Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity. He said the Christian Action League lobbied for the legislation, which passed this year. “It doesn’t provide new rights; it only makes clear what the constitution already provides – student-led and student-initiated prayers. It’s time school officials caught up on this issue,” he quipped.
Creech went on to argue, “Think of it. The High Court has said it’s constitutional to have graduation prayers, but with certain restrictions. Graduation prayers are public and still occur with the use of the PA. There is no difference. It falls within similar guidelines. What is happening here is an all-too-often sad scenario in our time. Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU, and others bully school boards. They want to run religion entirely out of the public arena. And every time a School Board lets them get away with it, our children’s constitutional religious freedoms are violated. And every time we let them get away with it, everybody’s religious liberties are placed in jeopardy.”
The peaceful protest at Ledford is the latest in a string of similar acts of defiance regarding prayer. South Davidson High School, which is in the same school district, held a similar demonstration recently. Last week, The Christian Post reported Tennessee cheerleaders led the crowd at their game in saying the Lord’s Prayer after school officials said the Oneida High School public address announcer could no longer recite a pre-game prayer. Pre-game prayers had been a tradition at that school since 1930.
Sources tell the Christian Action League there will be another show of community support for prayer during Ledford High’s Homecoming game on Friday, October 17th.