A Mahoning County school district temporarily called a stop to prayers before sporting events after it was challenged by a national group that said it had received complaints.
West Branch Schools Superintendent Tim Saxton posted a letter on the district’s Facebook page saying prayers will no longer be allowed before athletic events “until the situation is resolved.”
“We put a link to the letter and it caught fire from there,” Saxton tells the Alliance Review. “We wanted to get the message out; it is what it is.”
According to the Review, the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the school district on Jan. 18 and said it had received complaints from two “concerned citizens” about the prayers.
The non-profit group, based in Wisconsin, says the practice violates the U.S. Constitution.
Saxton tells WFMJ Channel 21 that legal counsel advised the district cease prayers as it reviews the complaint.
“It’s not a matter of whether we truly care what this foundation thinks, it’s making sure we apply the correct legal status to make sure we do what we are supposed to do in terms of the law,” Saxton says.
While religious leaders tell WFMJ the community supports the prayers before games, a lawyer with the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union tells the Vindicator the district is violating the Constitution.
“The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it is impermissible for religious practices to take place during school-sponsored events,” Ohio ACLU lawyer Elizabeth Bonham says.