Community reacts to removal of prayer before Opelika HS football game

Updated: Sep. 10, 2019 at 6:35 PM EDT
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OPELIKA, Ala. (WTVM) - An East Alabama high school is facing backlash after having a prayer before recent home football games.

Now, the community is responding to the decision to substitute the prayer for a moment of silence.

High school football is a big deal in Opelika, and dozens of fans fill the stands at Opelika High School for every home game.

But Bulldog Stadium is now filled with debate.

“First of all, I don’t like it," said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.

Another Opelika resident agreed.

“I just think it’s really sad,” Tony Chandler said.

It started after someone complained about a prayer recited by a student over the stadium’s loudspeakers before a home game recently. The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Opelika City Schools asking that practice to end.

The group cites a Supreme Court ruling that prohibits school-sponsored prayer.

Opelika City Schools announced it will stop prayers before high school football games, as well as prohibit coaches from leading or participating in prayers with students.

“I understand that Dr. Neighbors and the Opelika City School Board have no choice in the matter because of how the supreme court has ruled,” Fuller said.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors said in a statement, “We recognize that the United States of America is a nation of laws and we will abide by the current law. Our students are allowed to pray, but our coaches are not allowed to participate.”

There will now be a moment of silence in lieu of a student-led prayer.

It’s a subject that’s got many talking.

“Most of the town prayers are thanksgiving," Chandler said. "We’re thanking the Lord for just being at the ballgame and watching these kids play ball. I don’t think it’s really a slap in the face to a non-Christian.”

Brian Hawkins, the Rabbi at Beth Ohr, a local synagogue, said having a Christian prayer before a football game doesn’t bother him.

“I’m a Messianic Jew, and I don’t oppose Christian praying at all," Hawkins said. "I think everyone has a freedom in this country to be able to pray.”

Others said having a moment of silence is more fair.

“There may be some kids or parents who are not part of the Christian belief,” said Sammie Gay, a parent of an Opelika High School football player. “I just imagine how they feel being alienated. Praying out loud doesn’t make it any bigger than praying in your car when you get to the football stadium.”

The school board’s attorney is looking over current laws on school prayer to confirm what is allowed for students. There is a growing push on social media for fans to recite the Lord’s Prayer during that moment of silence Friday.

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