Defending the Right to Pray at America's High Schools

It is difficult for many Americans to understand the depth and breadth of the antipathy that some in today’s culture feel for public expressions of religious faith … even the simplest prayer. Two cases our attorneys have dealt with in the last few months illustrate how crucial our efforts to preserve religious freedom are, if your children and grandchildren are to enjoy the same constitutionally protected rights you and I have cherished for so long.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Wake Forest-Rolesville High School wrestler Nicholas Fant jogged to the center of the mat and dropped to one knee for two seconds of prayer before his match began. It was something he’d done before every match of the season, and took no longer than the actions of other wrestlers who often paused to shake hands with the referee, wave at a family member, or even tie a loose shoe lace before the match began.

This time, however, a referee gave Fant a warning for allegedly stalling the match. Fant rose from his kneeling position even before the referee finished relaying the call, but the warning stood and later contributed to Fant losing a point. Given none of the other wrestlers were cited (at this match or during the season) for similar pauses, “This appears to be another example of the lack of tolerance for expressions of religious faith,” says Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys sent a letter to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association explaining why the referee’s call is unconstitutional, and asking the association to take steps to ensure that such constitutionally protected expressions of faith will be respected.

In Concord, New Hampshire, Lizarda Urena asked for and received permission from the principal of Concord High School to pray briefly on campus each morning for the safety of her own two children and for all other students, staff, and faculty at the school. (Fears had been stirred by the recent discovery of bullets in one of the school’s bathrooms.) She prayed each morning on the steps of the school auditorium, carefully keeping her intercessions to less than 15 minutes. The school never endorsed what she said, and her prayers never interfered with classes.

Nevertheless, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the school district a letter demanding that Urena be prohibited from continuing to pray. Our attorneys responded with a letter of their own, assuring school officials that, “A school’s accommodation of a parent’s desire to pray for her children does not violate the Constitution” and that “several courts have upheld the practice of schools permitting parents on campus to pray for the safety and protection of students.”

“The Constitution should be the only permission slip students and parents need to exercise their freedom of speech,” says Tedesco, and thankfully, school administrators eventually agreed.

Clearly, neither of these individuals intended to disrupt the activities around them – they are not rabble-rousers. They ask only the right to be who they are, to stand for their deepest beliefs, to quietly intercede on behalf of themselves and others. That is a right given by God and protected by our Constitution – a right you want to have and pass on to your children and grandchildren.

Please pray for our attorneys as they defend that right, and for the good courage of all people of faith to stand unashamed for their convictions, even in the face of an often hostile culture.

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