50 years of prayer stopped after school receives letter - CBS46 News

50 years of prayer stopped after school receives letter

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For more than 50 years the Haralson County High School Rebels have been praying before football games over their public announcement system. 

For the first time since the prayers began all those years ago, the loud speaker was silenced.  In their first home game against Bowdon things were a lot different. The changes came after a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation was sent to Haralson County Schools Superintendent Brett Stanton.

The letter, dated Sept. 19, 2011 asked the district to stop praying over the loud speaker because it was violating the constitution.

According to the letter, signed by, Stephanie A. Schmitt, a lawyer for the foundation, it read; "First and foremost, it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor and lead prayers at public high school athletic events."

Under the constitution, via separation of church and state, Stanton agreed that from a professional position, it was in the school's best interest to replace the prayer with a moment of silence instead.

"We are going to follow the guidelines of the Constitution," Stanton said. "I think it is a huge adjustment for this community, something they are having to adapt to. And something that has really brought them together."

Instead of being silent during the moment of silence, fans and players decided they would pray.

The act, according to community members, was to show that just because the school can't broadcast their prayer over the PA system, they are not going to stop praying.

"I am upset because I think our God-given rights are being taken away as well," Melinda Holden said. "We are a God-believing community and we have our rights too. This is needed in our community. If you don't want to support the prayer then allow us to have our say."

The letter was sent because of concerns raised by parents whose son plays on the football team. 

Frank and Sarah Mcintire said they just wanted the school to stop violating the constitution, not to cause problems for the team.

"We didn't mean for it to get this far," Frank said. "All we wanted was to abide by the Supreme Court ruling. It's been totally blown out of proportion and some of the comments that have been made (about us) are false."

The Mcintires said they have been married for 25 years and are not atheists. But they explained they just felt uncomfortable with some of the messages they were forced to hear before the game.

"We care about the community, we care about this team and one of the things I am glad to see a lot of people here tonight," Frank said. "Where have they been the past six years? They come out here for this one issue, they are not out here supporting the football team, they are supporting the prayer, that's a big difference, we are out here every Friday night supporting this team."

The principal of Haralson County High School, Topher Byrnes, had similar sentiments as Frank.

"From a personal standpoint, I understand the importance of prayer," Byrnes said. "From a professional standpoint, I understand the importance of keeping church and state separate."

Byrnes said it was a sellout crowd, nearly 3,000 people in attendance. He only hopes that kind showing won't end.

"I thank them for their support. I hope and wish the support would continue throughout the year," Byrnes said. "We've got a lot of struggles we need to address academically, and if we could get this kind of support for academic programs we could really start going places."

Fans said they will continue to pray during the moment of silence to express their constitutional rights, as well.

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