Catholic High School Football Program Banned From Praying Plans To Defy Rule

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Casey Harper Contributor
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A North Dakota Catholic High School football program has been prohibited from praying over the loud speaker at Saturday’s playoff game, but they said Friday they intend to pray regardless of the consequences.

The North Dakota High School Activities Association, a public entity which hosts the football league of high schools, has banned praying over the loud speaker during playoff games. Still, Shanley High School, a private Catholic school in Fargo, North Dakota has prayed over the loud speaker every game during the regular season.

But now that it is playoff time, the school says the association specifically told them they were not allowed to pray at Saturday’s game, which will be held at Shanley High’s field.

Shanley High School has teamed up with the Thomas More Society, a religious liberty legal group, and intends to defy the rule. The school sent a letter to the association Friday informing them of their intention to disobey, and that letter was provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Shanley High School argues in the letter they are clearly a religious institution not subject to separation of church and state requirements.

“However, our understanding is that the association’s position is that playoff games are ‘sponsored’ by the association itself, and that that ‘sponsorship’ somehow converts Shanley’s football field into state property and Shanley into a state actor,” the letter reads. “This ‘sponsorship’ is illusory; in all material respects, Shanley will be hosting the game exactly as it does in the regular season—it will, for example, run ticket sales, organize and sell concessions, provide an announcer to announce the game, and provide down markers, for example.”

While the association says allowing the prayers would violate the Establishement Clause as an official endorsement of religion, the school argues that actually denying the right to pray is the real violation of the First Amendment.

“Additionally, based on our preliminary review, this prohibition is a violation of the free speech and free religious exercise rights of the school, as a private and religious entity,” the letter reads. “The Supreme Court has clearly held that it is unconstitutional to require private entities to give up their religious identity in order to participate in government sponsored programs.”

The association did not immediately respond for request for comment. The school argues that no reasonable observer would come to a football game at a Catholic school and view a prayer as a government endorsement of religion.

“And they will be looking down on a massive Christian cross, featured in the Shanley crest, which is emblazoned in the center of the field at the fifty-yard line,” the letter reads. “Therefore, it is our opinion that the distinction between the regular season and playoffs has no merit in supporting the association’s assertion that it is required to treat playoffs differently in order to avoid an Establishment Clause violation. In short, no one attending a football game at this proudly Catholic high school will mistake it for a courthouse, city hall, or public high school.”

This conflict comes just a week after a Washington football coach was put on leave for praying midfield after games, despite his district’s warnings.

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