Prayer matters in West Branch
By Amanda Tonoli
Some members of the West Branch schools community are sporting “Prayer Matters” T-shirts in support of a long-standing tradition that has come under fire.
The issue “matters to them, and matters in general,” said West Branch parent Kristen Dwaine Everett. “When you start taking away traditions, it gets people riled up.”
West Branch Schools halted prayer before athletic games after receiving a letter Jan. 18 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation stating the practice is unconstitutional.
The letter states: “One of our complainants reports that at a recent varsity basketball game [Jan. 5] at West Branch High School, a prayer was delivered over the loudspeaker after the National Anthem was played. It was reported that all in attendance were asked to remain standing for this prayer and that the prayer was Christian in nature.”
On Tuesday, Elizabeth Bonham, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio staff attorney, stated: “The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it is impermissible for religious practices to take place during school-sponsored events.”
Tim Saxton, West Branch superintendent, said Tuesday that all prayers were stopped upon receiving the complaint and the district is in contact with its lawyer.
But the community wants praying to return.
In less than 24 hours from the shirts’ creation, more than 200 $10 “Prayer Matters” shirts have been sold.
Fellow parent Brandy Pidgeon said the shirts are the product of an idea from her son, Nick Pidgeon.
“He just said one night over dinner, ‘Prayer matters,’” she said. “Simple as that. And we went from there.”
“To these boys it matters and we want to bring it back if we can,” Brandy Pidgeon said.
Everett said the issue isn’t about religion, it’s about taking things students care about away from them.
“It just matters to them,” she said. “Out here we have really high suicide rates in area schools and we have those schools reach out to us and say, ‘Please pray for us, we need your prayers at this time,’ and when we take that away from [students] – that opportunity to be there for each other and pray for each other and watch out for each other – it’s just hard to have someone say, ‘Hey, you can’t.’”
Varsity basketball player Reese Leone, 16, said there’s not much to say about the issue other than to read the shirts.
“It speaks for itself,” he said.
For information about the shirts contact Kristen Everett on Facebook, facebook.com/kristen.d.everett.