North Pike High School football fans wanted their message of faith in God to be loud and clear on Friday, one day after the district announced the suspension of student-led school prayer at football games.

The decision came on the heels of a letter the district received from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which charges that even student-led prayers represent an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and must, therefore, be ended.

Superintendent Dr. Ben Cox presented the letter to the school board on Thursday and said the district is seeking an opinion from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office. In the meantime, Cox said prayers would be suspended at sporting events and other school functions.

But individual fans and supporters at North Pike started a grassroots method and skirted the ban.

“Students, patrons and parents will still have the individual right to prayer,” Cox said. “It’s not a violation of federal law to have prayer at an event as long as the school does not initiate it. We encourage our patrons to express that right of religious freedom.”

Before kickoff in the game against Purvis, fans did just that. After an announcer relayed the reason for no student-led prayer, and before a choir sang the national anthem, Dixie Springs resident Paul Ott Carruth led the crowd in saying The Lord’s Prayer.

Copies of the prayer had been distributed to many in the crowd, and members of the visiting team from Purvis also took part in the prayer, which was pre-planned.

Many of North Pike’s fans wore T-shirts that bore witness to their faith in God and in Jesus, along with their right to religious freedom.

North Pike school board member Kevin Matthew said citizens went to work right after the board meeting to make a plan of action.

“I was very proud of our fans,” Matthew said. “Fans were notified. Some people thought it would take days to get the word out, but with Facebook, you tell 10 people, and it’s out.”

Matthew said the board was not going to vote on it, because it would then become policy.

“Dr. Cox did not make the decision to back down, but to protect principals or teachers involved in a student-led prayer. It doesn’t apply just to  just to football.”

The Wisconsin group has successfully sued schools in the past and won judgements.

Matthew said the group doesn’t sue, but finds a local family or parent to file the suit.

Most schools continued to pray at events, but the latest tactic by the Wisconsin group “is to sue you individually as superintendent, or principal and person who said the prayer.”

“Next time it could be a million dollars,” Matthew said. “It could financially ruin an administrator, or teacher or school district. If we get sued, we’re going to lose.”

The problem with school prayer at an event such as a game is the “captive audience; students don’t have a choice,” Matthew said.

“I was proud of our fans. We sent a message to this organization, they can sue and stop schools from leading prayer but they can’t keep prayer out of schools,” he said.

Matthew noted that there’s only one more home game, on Oct. 14; the last two are away games.

He hopes people continue to use their religious freedoms.

“A lot of people stopped prayer in the 90s. But after Sept. 11 people brought prayer back; the whole nation was praying. Eventually, we’ve worked our way back to it again,” Matthew said. “I would challenge other school districts who have stopped prayer, to take it up.”

And he urges other districts to go to the Web site www.praybeforeyouplay.org, which takes visitors to a Facebook page for Mississippi Super Talk Radio.

The decision to suspend school prayer sparked discussion throughout the community, not just by North Pike fans, as evidenced by comments amassing on the Enterprise-Journal’s Facebook page and on its Website.

As of mid-afternoon Saturday, there were 122 comments on Facebook, many of them back-and-forth arguments against one person, Eric, who posted that the school is wrong to offer only Christian, student-led prayer and violates the separation of church and state.

“The overly religious views people have around here should not be pushed onto anyone in schools. Period. ... The law says no preference of religion shall be made by a government. So, this should have stopped happening long ago. If you want to pray, do it silently.”

He later posted, “If you feel you must pray, that is your belief. I just don’t want it shoved down my throat. Does that seem understandable?”

Among the dozens of posts defending the pre-game prayer, and prayer in general at school, was this one from Timothy: “... Please go to the game tonight and exercise your right to pray. Please photograph it. Please show how much pride you have. Nothing will please God more than laying down your weapons and sharp tongues, and praying for us all, regardless of how some feel. ... I’m no better than you nor you me. I’m not wise or worldly. ... This mob mentality is wrong. Eric came along and said his opinion and the anger came out. Jesus would have washed Eric's feet.”

On Friday night, there were no rowdy outbursts or interruptions before, during or after the prayer.

But fans in the stands could be heard bemoaning the fact that they would be losing religious freedom.

“All they say is bless the players from both teams, keep them safe, make sure the players are sportsmanlike, and that’s about it,” one fan said.

Others woefully acknowledged that the school would have to capitulate and have a permanent ban on prayers, but they said it must change from the top down.

“In the end, it will have to come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” another said.

Most recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully ended student-led prayer high school football game and graduation ceremonies in DeSoto County.

(24) comments

Serenity

It is upsetting that those non-christians among us must hide and keep our voices silent or face the anger and hate that is the true voice of christianity. Or at least the loudest voice of christianity.

Until today, I thought I must be the only non-christian in Pike county. Eric, whoever you are, you are not alone.

Anonymous Comment

If you were not there,it was a beautiful thing....I am Proud to be a North Pike Alumni and proud my children go there....

Anonymous Comment

Wow, for good, Bible-loving Christians, it would seem none of them have actually read it. Matthew 6:5-6 says:

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

I don't think their god likes public prayer as much as they seem to think...

-Derrik

Anonymous Comment

Serenity, Surely not everything you hear is pleasing to you. Christianity does not evoke hate. You have the right to be a non-believer; we have the right to be believers and also have the right to freedom of speech.

-Christians under attack

Anonymous Comment

It is amazing to me that people want to get on here and fuss about Christians praying at the ball game, but us Christians are supposed to be ok with people being very forward about gays, lesbians, ext....So Serinity...you may not be a Christians and believe me I will pray for your soul. But dont tell is we cant pray to the Lord that gave you your life and every breathe that you breathe and expect us watch and be ok with all the other. I will NOT and i repeat NOT stop praying. If you dont like it I have two suggestions for you...GO TO CHURCH OR STAY HOME!!!!!!

Anonymous Comment

To Serenity: You must have your head in the sand, as non-christians have NOT hidden, nor have they/you been silent. That is what all of this is about. No, Eric is not alone. We Christians pray for you. We do not hate you. Jesus loves you, and we try to be like Him. Perfect, no. Forgiven, yes. If you die right now, what happens to you??? Think about it, for the end of the times is very near. We are to all be ready. One day you will realize that ALL will bow down and acknowledge that He is the Father....our Lord and God. Sadly, it will be too late for some. It's not too late right now, but we don't have the promise of tomorrow here on this earth. Those who prayed from their HEARTS as well as their mouths were smiled on by Jesus. Wow!!! I wish I could have been there, but I was still praying from my home that night. I am thankful for these people who are not ashamed of Christ.

Anonymous Comment

Eighty-two percent of Mississippi residents believe in Jehova, the Judeo-Christian god, based on a 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. I understand this is Mississippi, and we don't count well unless we're shoeless, but that leaves eighteen percent of the population that aren't Christian. These are the people who get offended when a government institution (that would be a public school) endorses (read: leads students & football fans in a Christian prayer) one particular religion that isn't theirs. This is a direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and is against the law.

Just because the majority believes they can disregard Federal law does not make them right. Representatives of the government should not be endorsing a particular religion.

What if the eighty-two percent were Muslim, and you were forced to bring a prayer rug to use before the game? You'd be offended, if you were a Christian. See how the other shoe fits?

"Christians under attack"? Really? Only if you break the law.

Serenity

I support everyone's right to pray. I don't care for being belittled, discounted, or even threatened just for expressing the opinion that I don't wish to do it myself. Christians, you are more than welcome to pray anywhere you choose. You already know that. You don't need my permission.

I don't know what the legal ramifications are, but as far as I'm concerned, you can even choose to get on the PA system, or bring your own bullhorn and pray at public or private events.

What would be pleasing to me, is if you would realize and acknowledge that when you do that, you demand everyone, whether we want to or not, to sit silently and respectfully by while you pay homage to your god. There is no reason for you to do that except to assert dominance over the minority.

In my experience, the only rights christians are concerned with is their own.

awake in mccomb

What harm does praying do? Really! With so many issues in this world that need to be addressed, find a positive solution for, prayer at a football game is now a reason for a suit! Our government has lost it's way.

RideTheLightning

Well with the ACLU and aethiest groups trying to curtail God out of every facet of life, it is good to see some unity and peaceful unity.

Serenity you have it backwards. Everywhere you turn, especially in entertainment and other aspects of life you do not see nothing but believers' faith get dragged through the mud and ridiculed and called idiots. So I beg to differ with you.

Anonymous Comment

I consider myself a heathen, and seldom enter a church even as a matter of respect for people I care about. However, I don't like bullying, and for that reason I'm tickled beyond words that the audience found their way around the bully tactics used against the schools. I don't want anyone's religion shoved down my throat, but neither will I shove my disbelief at anyone.

Anonymous Comment

Students have been saying the pregame prayer at North Pike for years. These generic prayers have generally asked that the players and coaches exhibit good sportsmanship, the game be injury free, and that the fans have a safe trip home. These young students were not trying to promote a government "established religion" , as is protected against in the U.S. Constitution, nor were they trying to exert their Christianity on the unsuspecting crowd at the football games. The Freedom from Religion Foundation opened this can of worms and I truly hope that they love the taste.

-jaguar fan

Anonymous Comment

I was at the "Game " Friday night and I have never been more proud of a community then I was when "We the People" recited the Lords Prayer. I think sometimes we have forgotten, why our forefathers came to this great nation and why they sacrificed so much to live in a "Christian Nation" with Liberty and Freedom that we have enjoyed in years past, that are being attacked today by people who are against what our country was founded upon, which is Freedom of Religion,not Freedom from Religion. May I suggest if you want Freedom from Religion move to another country !! For you to understand how our forefathers lived and died and fought, as well as gave so much for may I please get you to go to You Tube and type in david barton tour of capital, I content that you will be amazed as you will learn real history of what our forefathers did who were our leaders. I am so glad that they had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for their beliefs against unbelievable pressure. North Pike I salute you for drawing a line in the sand and saying UNITED WE STAND. Before you respond to this, you owe it to yourself to watch the youtube of David Barton then you will understand why there is such an outburst of taking our Nation that was founded on a Christian Foundation to a place where we are forbidden to pray. If you will watch this short video you will learn that our Founding Fathers most of them were preachers and God Fearing Men, this is what our Nation was built upon and we refuse to allow it to be taken any further away then it has been, and need to ask God to forgive us for NOT TAKING A STAND YEARS AGO to stop this foolishness of Separation Church and State. I challenge you to watch it and do the research and then make your anti God comments,

-Anonymous

Anonymous Comment

To Anonymous posts at 10:17 a.m. and 4:44 a.m. on Monday October 10. You claim forgiveness for all that you do. You claim to act like your god. Were you acting like your god when you waged the "holy wars" against the muslims in their own country and their own land just because you disapproved of their beliefs? Were you acting as good christians when you murdered the druids of Ireland for not converting to your beliefs? Were you exhibiting good christian behavior when you burned midwives at the stake for healing with herbs? Were you following your teachings when you slaughtered whole tribes of Indians because THEY were uncivilized and followed other gods? Your religion and its followers have been some of the blood thirstiest and most violent people in the history of the world. Your own holy book condemns your behavior yet you pray for those who follow their beliefs instead of living like a hypocrite. CONSIDERING OVER 73% OF THE WORLD IS NOT christian, do you want us to return the favor and convert you? BUT WE DO BELIEVE IN THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE AND WORSHIP AS YOU SEE FIT,SO WE DON'T PUSH OUR BELIEFS ON YOU!

popcorn

Derrik,

This seems to be the most ignored and least quoted verse in the New Testament.

Ignorance of history still reigns.

Anonymous Comment

All I am saying it if it offends you stay home. I do not go to lesbian bars or Gay marches or muslim church ..ect..because I dont believe in it so I dont go. Alot of people dont go to certain churches cause they dont believe there beliefs. Same here...If you dont like it..stay home...We should not have to stop doing something that 95% of the people there like cause 10 people have a problem with it!!!

Anonymous Comment

"but us Christians are supposed to be ok with people being very forward about gays, lesbians, ext.."You bring up a point that simply lights a fire. Growing up gay in McComb has SERIOUS psychological effects on a person due to people like you, who raise us to believe there is something wrong with us because we are who we are..Yes, I am PROUD that I am gay because I live well knowing that I was born this way, and it is not my choice, anyone who believes otherwise is absurd, did you make your choice to be straight? No, you didn't. Who would choose to have such a social stigma in such an bias area? It can really mess people up in the head, this whole "pray the gay away" idea, imagine coming up your whole life being told that you're going to Hell and there's nothing you can do about it because you were born to have a sexuality that is different from everyone elses. How absurd is that? I don't understand how you can go around calling yourselves the "religion of the peaceful" and then you turn around and single out one group of people(not just gays, its different on a day to day basis) and tell them that they are wrong because they were not born like you or because they do not think like you. How dare you.(Edited by staff.)

Anonymous Comment

No one is singling our gays and lesbians, it is a point being made. People that dont agree with the gay lifestyle choose whether or not to go to gay bars and gay marches...all that was being said was it is your choice whether to attend or not. It was not singling out gay people or any one else. I have several gay friends, and whether I think it is right or wrong is not my choice to decide.. All that was said was we should have every right to pray for what we believe in just as everyone else has there right to. God loves all of us so no matter what your lifestyle, we all serve the same God...

Anonymous Comment

To Anonymous at 8:24 p.m. on 10-10-11, who wrote to me who posted at 10:17 a.m........I didn't do any of those things. You might not like it, but trust me, I will lovingly pray for you. You know, God often takes things that appear bad and turn them into good. That's what He is doing here!!! We are being called to take a stand and not be fearful for those who oppose us. We are not physically fighting. This is all spiritual warfare, and that is it in a nutshell. We are not fighting principalities, but against Satan. There is no gray area, by the way.Like the song says, "Onward, Christian Soldiers!!!" Let's show others the love of Jesus, and nothing else.

Anonymous Comment

If you want to have church, have church. If you want to go to a ball game go to a ball game. I doubt God likes football anyway. And I doubt E-J will print this one either.

Serenity

And here I am, defending myself against some kind of philosophical quarantine. If I don't like hearing others pray, I should just stay home.

In fact, I don't go to churches, and I don't go to football games. But, my children are mandated by law to attend school, just like yours. Of course, I could take my children out of public school if I don't want them exposed to christian prayer. However, the law is that public schools can not promote a religion. My children should be able to attend public school without having to listen to organized prayer--period.

The will of the majority does not outweigh the rights of the minority.

Anonymous Comment

Born gay? Now I have heard it all. I have heard of being born with learning disabilities and being born with missing limbs, but being born gay come on, lets have a better excuse than that. This has nothing to do with saying a prayer at a football game. Point is this is a democracy and majority wins unless you play the race card or threaten a lawsuit and then the minority wins. In my time with the military in Iraq, I served with people who would tell you there was no GOD, but the moment artillery rounds and IED's started blowing off they had their head bowed talking to somebody. So what if people want to ask for a blanket of safety over the teams and their fans as they travel. Thats what Oz, Sabo, Ms. Casanova and all the other servicemembers gave their life for so WE can do that!(Edited by staff.)

Serenity

Seriously, Jack? No option in your poll to stop prayer at public events? Sadly typical way of excluding minorities. Thank you for making my point for me.

Anonymous Comment

The religious people & ministersI respect don't push public prayers in an illegal manner like North Pike is doing. People who are praying to God and not for bigshot/Pharisee status don't need to pray publicly.

Though slightly off this topic, the poster who said they had not heard of anyone being born gay has not read any serious scientific research in humans or animals. And in the U.S. being in the majority does NOT win you the ability to take away rights of others. That is why we were given the Bill of Rights. I am a heterosexual woman and knew that even as a preschooler but I don't need to mistreat those who are not. Those who are so ugly acting and talking about gays are often hiding their own proclivities of being mean to heterosexuals & homosexuals/gays; those who are mean to gays certainly are not Christians. Christ was not mean and uncaring.

Those who have to rail against those who are different or are minorities of any kind generally need to be watched. Shame on North PIke!!!! Pray privately that you can be better people!!!!!

-Preacher's Kid & Preacher's Grandkid

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