After an Ohio high school received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist watchdog group, for observing a moment of prayer before each basketball game, several students and attendees wore "Prayer Matters" t-shirts and held a moment of silence ahead of a Friday night match.
According to the local news, more than 100 people in attendance at the Friday evening West Branch High School varsity basketball game in Beloit, Ohio wore "Prayer Matters" shirts and were asked to have a moment of silence for reflection, prayer, or meditation following the National Anthem.
The district ended a decades-long tradition of praying before sports events after the Wisconsin-based FFRF sent a complaint letter on Jan. 18.
"It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events," FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert said in her letter to West Branch Local School District Superintendent Timothy Saxton. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools. Moreover, the Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events."
Regardless of precedents cited by the FRFF, several members of the community indicated that they want the tradition to continue. "We are looking for an option that gives us an ability to do that. It's that compromise that we're working on," Saxton said of the moment of silence observed instead.
"I believe we are allowed to express ourselves and it's our freedom guaranteed by the Constitution," said Paige Derry, a 14-year-old student. "I want the praying to continue."
"It's disheartening when this type of thing comes in from outside," local pastor Mark Reich said. "Because it is a well-loved tradition. The faith foundation in this community, it runs deep."