For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
October 06, 2017
The Center for Inquiry challenged two high schools in Louisiana, as well as the administrators of public schools and public school athletics, to cease recent policies that fringe on the First Amendment rights of students.
In a joint letter from a broad swath of the secular movement, CFI told Waylon Bates, principal of Parkway High School, as well as others in charge of school policies in Louisiana, that threatening to discipline student athletes for protesting during the National Anthem is unconstitutional. CFI demanded retraction of the threat as well as a commitment that organized prayer would no longer be permitted at high school football games.
Bates, with the support of Scott Smith, the superintendent of Bossier Parish Schools, had informed his student athletes they would be disciplined if they were to follow the lead of so many professional athletes who recently protested during the National Anthem.
The Supreme Court has long held that schools may not compel student participation in patriotic displays against their will. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, the highest court invalidated a law requiring public school students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or face discipline.
“Students don’t shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel, and one of the signatories to the letter. “Nor do they abandon those rights by putting on a football helmet. Students may not be compelled to be patriotic, and our courts have long recognized that.”
At Parkway’s football game, played at Airline High School’s stadium, the game was also preceded by a prayer invoking Jesus delivered by a student, according to the Washington Post. CFI noted that this violates church-state separation, a fact specifically affirmed by the Supreme Court case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, that struck down prayer at public school football games.
“School football games are not prayer vigils,” noted Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Students and their families who are atheists or nonreligious – a growing part of this nation – should not be subjected to a religious ceremony as the price of participation in a school sporting event.”
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.