Despite Legal Issues, Prayers Before Football Games

Birdville ISD finds way around Supreme Court ban

In Texas, where high school football may almost be a religion, one school district has found a way to say organized prayers before games -- despite a Supreme Court ruling that generally forbids the practice.

This year in the Birdville Independent School District near Fort Worth, students lead the crowd in prayer before games.

On Friday night, before Richland High School took on Northwest High School, a student called for a moment of silence for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The district defends the policy and says it's legal under a Texas law passed in 2007 that allows a "limited public forum" for public school students.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that student-led prayers at public high school football games violate the separation of church and state.

Birdville ISD spokesman Mark Thomas said the speakers are chosen at random. The only restriction is the students must be juniors or seniors with no disciplinary record.

"They tell us they want to do it and we draw names out of the hat and say, 'This is your event' and they go on," Thomas said.

On the scoreboard, the district flashes a legal disclaimer.

"The student giving the introduction for tonight's athletic contest is a volunteering student selected on neutral criteria," it says.

It also adds that the student's comments don't represent the views of the district.

Thomas said the district allows students to say whatever they want. Sometimes it's a prayer, and other times students just welcome fans to the game, he said.

"We don't know until the student gets up there and we turn the mic on," he said. "We don't dictate; we don't ask."

Civil rights experts question the policy and wonder what would happen if a student wanted to promote the Koran or even Satanism.

Frank Colosi, a civil rights attorney in Fort Worth, said the policy invites a lawsuit.

Thomas said nobody has complained and that the district has reviewed its policies with attorneys.

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