Moment of silence replaces prayer before West Branch game Friday

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By AMANDA TONOLI

atonoli@vindy.com

BELOIT

A moment of silence appeared to be accepted in place of prayer at the Friday evening West Branch High School varsity basketball game.

Those in attendance were asked to have a moment of silence for reflection, prayer or meditation following the National Anthem.

The request received a round of applause by all.

Gwen Lamp, 13, said she was happy for the return of some type of prayer – or time for prayer.

“Prayer kind of represents this community,” she said.

More than 100 people in attendance at the basketball game sported “Prayer Matters” shirts.

The district halted prayer before athletic events after receiving a letter Jan. 18 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation stating the practice is unconstitutional.

Addie Morris, 18, said although the moment of silence is a step in the right direction, it is still unconstitutional.

“Moments of silence were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because it was a way to circumvent prayer,” she said. “I think West Branch should stop trying to find their way around the law and follow it instead.”

Rebecca Markert, Freedom From Religion Foundation legal director, agreed with Morris and said the best course of action would be to just cease the action of prayer.

“Usually a school talks to their attorney and comes back saying the prayer will no longer take place,” she said. “We rarely ever have to take it to court because the law is so clear. ... The law is very clear what is allowed and what is not, and school-sponsored activities should be free from religious affiliations.”

Superintendent Tim Saxton said he had nothing to say about the moment of silence or the decision process that led to it.

Paige Derry, 14, said she believes it’s her constitutional right to have prayer at school.

“I believe we are allowed to express ourselves and it’s our freedom guaranteed by the Constitution,” she said. “I want the praying to continue.”

But not everyone agreed.

Parent Craig Brown, who also teaches American politics a Kent State University, said he’s disappointed the district “backed down.”

“They are losing a great opportunity to expose the community and students to many faiths,” he said. “This could be a real opportunity for intellectual growth. The question is whether the community could handle it.”

The letter from Freedom from Religion to the school district 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 Jan. 30, Elizabeth Bonham, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio staff attorney, told The Vindicator: “The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it is impermissible for religious practices to take place during school-sponsored events.”

In response, parents and community members have been taking sides.

Some have made T-shirts that read “Prayer Matters” featuring the school’s Indians mascot. Others designed shirts seeking an all-inclusive environment featuring “Coexist” spelled by using symbols of many religions. It also sports the Warriors’ logo.

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