PEA RIDGE, Ark. (KNWA) — A local school district is taking prayer out of its routine after a national organization claims it’s unconstitutional.
Rick Neal, the superintendent of Pea Ridge Schools, said schools will no longer lead prayers at school board meetings or any sporting events—leaving the community with mixed feelings.
“If you’re going to have prayer at schools you have to represent every religion or represent no religion,” said Hunter Miles, who is for the decision.
Those in Pea Ridge are reacting to the news that the district will no longer allow schools to lead prayers at sporting events or school meetings.
“Being a former graduate and a former football manager that was a big deal before every game and after the games,” said Tatum Richardson, who is against the decision. “It was something that the whole team did together out of choice.”
Richardson is a Pea Ridge alumnus.
She said the decision breaks a long-standing tradition at her school that no one was ever forced to participate in.
“Everyone has their entitlement to their own religion and their own beliefs but I think that it was never forced on anybody,” she said.
This all comes after a national “watchdog” organization with thousands of members across the country called out the school for violating the constitution.
Rebecca Markert with the Freedom from Religion Foundation said, “Having a prayer at a public school that is sponsored by the school itself is illegal. It’s likewise illegal to have a prayer at a school board meeting.”
The foundation said someone in the Pea Ridge community tipped them off.
School Board President Jeff Neil said in a statement, “This is not a decision that we take lightly. However, we have to be cognizant of the taxpayer’s money.”
Markert said, “The school district is right— if they continue this conduct and we were to sue, they would lose.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the Supreme Court prohibited school-sponsored prayers at high school football games in 2000.
“Once the government and public schools enter into the religion business then they are picking and choosing which religions they want to elevate. That really oppresses minority faiths and those of no faith at all,” said Market.
Those who agree with the decision to take prayer out say there should be a bigger separation of church and state.
Miles said, “If I were to bring up satan in a public setting I would probably be run out— to be 100 percent honest with you. It’s the same thing with Hindus or Muslims. I feel like this is more people are upset because it’s a Christian setup. Not more of a whole religion thing.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation said the school cannot conduct the prayer itself but can allow students and faculty to pray independently.
Here is the letter sent to the Pea Ridge Schools: