Students and community members at West Branch High School in Beloit, Ohio are pushing back against a left-wing think tank's attempt to ban the school's long-held tradition of holding a prayer before sporting events.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent West Branch's Superintendent Timothy Saxon a cease-and-desist letter on Jan. 18, Fox News reported. The organization, which bills its purpose as being to "protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church" and to "educate the public relation to nontheism," claims to have received two complaints by "concerned citizens" alleging the school district violated the constitutional separation between church and state.
FFRF alleges West Branch crossed the line by allowing the school principle or a pastor to lead a non-denominational prayer before school sporting events. FFRF argues that the school endorsed religion when it seceded time for prayer with heavily Christian overtones and then broadcasted the prayer over school loudspeakers.
To the chagrin of parents and community members, the school district responded to the letter by halting the custom while it investigates. FFRF praised the district's initial response.
"We're pleased the public school district took quick action to halt the practice of inflicting coercive Christian prayers before what is essentially a captive audience," Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF's co-president, said. "Public school students should not be expected to pray to play."
The community was quick to band together and make their displeasure known by creating and selling 4,000 t-shirts that say "prayer matters," which parents and students alike plan to wear to school sporting events in silent protest.
"They don’t know us, have never attended a West Branch sporting event or even stepped foot in our community," Marcie Curry, a parent, said. "Yet they believe they can tell us to stop one of our cherished, long-standing community traditions. That just doesn’t seem right."
FFRF has claimed the protests reinforce its point that "religion is a divisive force that has no place in public schools."
"West Branch officials created this acrimonious state of affairs by hosting unconstitutional prayer at public school events," Gaylor said in response to the backlash. "Now we see the majority in the school district trying to force its religious belief on the minority."
Watch a Fox News conversation with a West Branch parent and students: