Controversy Over Prayers at Football Games

September 10, 2000

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On September 10, 2000, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution published an article entitled, "Prayer Advocate Plots Plan; Public Proclamation: Stadium-Visiting Minister Says Fight is to Recognize Religious Freedom." It reports that the Rev. Curtis Turner "appeared at a high school football game in Jonesboro on Friday, urging the crowd to stay standing after the national anthem and recite the Lord's Prayer."

"We're not fighting to get prayer at games," Turner said. "It's to get the message out that for 224 years, America has had the heritage, the tradition and the freedom to pray." Turner estimates that about 80 percent of those at the Jonesboro game did remain standing to recite the prayer, and he intends to do the same thing in more and more stadiums in the upcoming weeks. He said that "going to metro area high school football games is just one part of a wider national grass-roots effort by a group of preachers to protest a June U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting school-sanctioned prayer at games and assemblies. He also is trying to gather 1 million signatures from Georgians to send to Washington. 'It's a petition for a declaration of religious freedom,' Turner said.

"Among the movement's opponents is the American Civil Liberties Union. Gerry Weber, legal director for the Georgia ACLU, said Turner's practices exist in a legal gray area. Weber said that schools cannot facilitate, participate, endorse or give preferential treatment to prayer over other speech." Weber explained, "There's a lot of lack of clarity in the law on this. School districts aren't necessarily sure what they're supposed to be doing under the law."

"Turner and his supporters pass out cards at sporting events that say 'We still pray. If you feel comfortable with doing so, please stand after the national anthem and say the Lord's Prayer...The prayer is printed on the card, Turner said." Weber asked, "Does an individual have a right to pass out this card in the abstract?...Sure."

"But regarding pregame prayer: 'Is it mean to kids? Is it unfair to kids? I think it is,' Weber said."