An atheist-led complaint over a routine prayer that was said via loudspeaker at an Ohio high school’s basketball games led more than 100 people to show up donning T-shirts that carried a powerful, two-word response: Prayer matters.
The bold display unfolded after The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, complained last month over prayers that were said aloud before basketball games at West Branch High School in Beloit, Ohio.
Invocations were subsequently halted, but the public reportedly reacted pretty swiftly.
Scores of fans took to the stands on Friday night donning “Prayer matters” T-shirts in response to the complaint. And, rather than an overt prayer, the school opted to instead hold a moment of silence before the game — something that critics, including the FFRF, still object to.
A speaker took to the microphone to encourage people to remain standing for “reflection, prayer or meditation.”
“Usually a school talks to their attorney and comes back saying the prayer will no longer take place,” Rebecca Markert, legal director for the FFRF, told The Vindicator. “We rarely ever have to take it to court because the law is so clear. … The law is very clear what is allowed and what is not, and school-sponsored activities should be free from religious affiliations.”
According to The Christian Post, the complaint halted a decade-long prayer tradition at the school (though one source said it had gone on for three decades), with some people in the community clearly wanting to see that tradition continue.
Pastor Mark Reich of Beloit Evangelical Friends Church told WKBN-TV what he usually prays for before each game.
“Always for protection, good, their best efforts and for everyone to go home saying, ‘I did my best,'” he said. “It’s disheartening when this type of thing comes in from outside. Because it is a well-loved tradition. The faith foundation in this community, it runs deep.”
Superintendent Tim Saxton of Boardman Local Schools said before Friday’s game that the district was looking for a middle ground approach to dealing with the controversy.
“We are looking for an option that gives us an ability to do that. It’s that compromise that we’re working on,” he said. “We want to make sure those traditions that have been long-held or cherished by the folks here are adhered to.”
Saxton said that the district is still weighing its options.