In a press conference Friday, Jefferson County School Superintendent Walter B. Gonsoulin Jr., Ph.D., said the rumors claiming the school system will prohibit prayer during school activities are “simply not correct".
This statement was made on behalf of Gonsoulin and the board members of Jefferson Schools following a week of confusion surrounding a letter released by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
The FFRF is an atheist advocacy group based in Madison, Wisconsin.
The FFRF said they received the letter from the school district’s attorney in response to a complaint issued in September 2021 about pre-game prayers at high school football games broadcast over the stadium’s PA system, which it said was “inappropriate and unconstitutional".
The letter, dated March 21, said that Gonsoulin met with Jefferson County School principals and will no longer permit prayer at any “school-sponsored events".
Wednesday, Gonsoulin released a statement that said the complaint was “resolved at the school level and not due to any newly adopted Board policy".
Michael Lee, principal of Clay-Chalkville High School, said Gonsoulin hadn’t met with him about this issue, nor had he heard about any other meetings.
“Founded on these inalienable rights"
In Friday’s statement, Gonsoulin said he and the school board will do “everything in their power” to protect “the right to pray and to religious expression".
“...Our country was founded on these inalienable rights,” Gonsoulin said. “...To the extent those rights are attacked or called into question by others who do not live here, who do not have the same respect for those freedoms and who do not represent the values of our community, this superintendent and board will stand with our students, families, employees and communities in defense of the right to pray and to express their religious beliefs.”
Matt Clark says, “We shouldn’t cave to bullies, especially when they tell us that it’s not okay to pray publicly. There are ways to fight back, and I hope Jefferson County will do so.” Read Matt’s commentary here.
Miscommunication between officials and attorneys
Gonsoulin said that the letter sent to the FFRF by the school attorneys was not reviewed by school system officials, although he said it was “sent in good faith and with the best of intentions".
Greg Davis, the host of Priority Talk Radio, has covered this and similar issues before on his show. He said he suspected a mix-up between the school system officials and attorneys.
Will prayers be broadcasted on the PA system?
Gonsoulin’s statement was unclear regarding whether the schools will continue to broadcast prayer over a stadium PA system before football games.
“I think his statement today gives Jefferson County residents and parents reason to be more confident in the superintendent and boards’ leadership on this issue, but I don’t think we’ll know anything until the fall,” Davis said.
Davis called the FFRF “bullies and intimidators.
“... I still say, ‘Is somebody going to get arrested over praying at a football game? I don’t think so.’ When I go to a high school game, it’s typically a student praying. Are we going to arrest a student?”
Support for Joseph Kennedy
Gonsoulin’s statement gave the school system’s support to football coach Joseph Kennedy of Bremerton High School in Washington state, who was fired in 2015 for delivering a post-game prayer on the field in front of students.
According to ABC News, Kennedy took legal action against the school district and was sided against by lower courts. He will face the Supreme Court of the United States in April, and his case is expected to be decided by the end of June.
“We are further directing our attorneys to prepare for our approval a formal resolution supporting the position of football coach Joseph Kennedy in his effort to secure his right to engage in post-game prayer with team members and members of the public,” said Gonsoulin.