The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA), which sanctions high school sports in the state, has an obligation to follow the law — as you would expect.
More than two decades ago, the OSSAA Board of Directors approved a policy that basically said they’ll abide by the Supreme Court decision in Lee v. Weisman (1992), which said public schools couldn’t sponsor prayers over the public address system at sporting events.
Simple enough. They didn’t even have to approve such a policy (since it was law), but they did.
This spring, as they were updating their manual, they wanted to see if that law was still in effect. Not only was that the case, it had been upheld and broadened with Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000). That decision said that public schools couldn’t sponsor student-led, student initiated prayers over the loudspeakers either.
So the law is very clear on this: School officials cannot sponsor public prayers of any sort at these events.
If athletes or students in the crowd want to pray on their own, that’s perfectly fine. If students want to organize a prayer circle before a game, that’s also okay! But the moment the school makes that an formal part of the event, it crosses the line.
That’s what OSSAA officials were trying to say earlier this month when they modified their own policy. They swapped out a reference to the 1992 Supreme Court case for the more recent 2000 case, and they pointed out that school-sponsored prayers were illegal, even if they were student-led or student-initiated.
But some state officials were so ignorant on this matter, that they began flipping out over how their rights were somehow taken away.
Last Monday, Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville) and 14 other lawmakers issued a statement sharing their frustration with the OSSAA’s “recent decision to prohibit student-lead prayers at high school playoff athletic events.”
That’s just flat-out stupidity by these officials, who have no idea what they’re talking about. Once again, the Religious Right is completely wrong.
Want to know how dumb Cleveland is? Check out what he said in his statement:
“How can an organization or even the government tell someone that they cannot pray,” Cleveland said. “It’s fine if OSSAA officials don’t want to take part. It’s fine if anyone present doesn’t want to take part. Why is it okay to tell people they can’t pray?”
Cleveland said that the policies reflect a movement by the left to protect “made-up rights” while stepping on clearly-defined constitutional rights.
“Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion,” Cleveland said. “It takes an awful lot of twisting around to get the concept so backwards. It is amazingly clear cut when you break it down, isn’t it?”
What’s clear-cut is that Cleveland owes everyone an apology.
Let’s say it all together now: Nobody is telling anybody that they can’t pray.
Students can pray. Athletes can pray. Coaches can pray. The only thing that’s not allowed is pushing those prayers on everybody else — like students reciting them over the loudspeaker or a coach telling the whole team to pray to Jesus before a game.
OSSAA had no desire to take away that right from anybody… and Cleveland and his colleagues would know that if they took a second to read the damn policy instead of blindly freaking out over nothing.
OSSAA responded to this bullshit by explaining the policy update in basic language so that people like Cleveland might understand it.
Not that he cares:
Cleveland and his group said they are considering filing legislation next session that would bring the OSSAA under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Department of Education.
Because only good things can happen when you combine Oklahoma, Education, and Bobby Cleveland, right?