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 over the summer 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.
Some state officials complained about how their rights were somehow taken away, but that’s what happens when ignorant people get into public office.
The state’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a conservative who loves government promotion of religion, also complained that the policy was too broad.
All of that led to the OSSAA issuing another policy this week saying that public schools were allowed to have a moment of silence before games:
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt the new policy after concerns were raised about whether prayer is allowed before games.
The new policy applies only to playoff contests, including games, and other competitions like music, speech and debate.
While some news outlets mistakenly said prayers before games were now legal (check out the URL here), that’s not the case at all. Moments of silence are fine. They’re useless, but they’re fine.
What’s important to remember is that 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, coaches telling the whole team to pray to Jesus before a game, or coaches making a big public showing of their prayers while on duty.
It’s a wise move. But this is Oklahoma, so Christians are bound to complain about how their religious liberty is somehow under attack just because school officials aren’t allowed to make big public displays of their faith.