Group renews complaint about pre-game prayer

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MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — A group has renewed its complaints about prayers before Bell County High School home football games in southeastern Kentucky.

The school district's superintendent, Yvonne Gilliam, received a letter last week from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Lexington Herald-Leader ( reported. The letter warned the school board against allowing a prayer before the season opener against Middlesboro.

Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the group, said it was told there was a student-led Christian prayer at the Friday night game. The foundation, which works against government endorsement of religion, will evaluate whether to send a follow-up complaint or sue, or both, Markert said Monday.

"Scheduling prayer at a school-sponsored event is a flagrant violation of the law," Markert said in the letter.

The foundation says it represents the views of non-believers and works to protect the constitutional separation of church and state.

Joe Humfleet, who heads the high school football booster club, said he hoped the school system wouldn't bow to a complaint from a few people about something many people support. He said there was a "big eruption of happiness" after students were given time to speak Friday night.

"We need to go on with what's right," Humfleet said.

Bell County High School had a long custom of letting a Christian minister lead a prayer before football games before 2011, when the foundation complained to then-Superintendent George Thompson about the practice. The school ended the pregame prayer after Thompson said the state Education Department advised him the practice ran afoul of federal-court rulings barring government endorsement of religion.

Humfleet said the issue came up again at a recent booster club meeting. Many people have thought it was a shame not to have a prayer before the games, he said.

"We're letting the minority dictate what we do," Humfleet said. "It's not right morally, and it's not right by our American way."

Gilliam, the superintendent, said when booster club members asked her about reinstating the prayers, she said the request had to come from students. The next day, she had a request from 10 to 20 students, Gilliam said.

On Aug. 18, the board approved Humfleet's request to reinstate the pregame prayer time.

Markert said people upset by the decision contacted the foundation.

Gilliam said the school system made it clear the prayer would have to be initiated and led by students.


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,

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