published Monday, June 13th, 2011

Area schools have religion controversies


by Adam Crisp

The Chattanooga area has had its own controversies surrounding religion in public schools.

Student-led prayer at Hamilton County Schools sporting events was banned in October 2010 after a national anti-religion group protested pre-game prayers at Soddy-Daisy High School.

The prayers, before graduations and football games, had been ongoing for more than a generation. Broadcast over loudspeakers with athletes on one knee, the prayers at Soddy-Daisy were hard for anyone to escape, and that’s what prompted the anti-religion group’s outcry.

Then-Superintendent Jim Scales agreed with the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation and ordered a halt to the practice.

“This does not need to be something that divides our community. None of the school cases that have been litigated are designed to keep anyone from praying or exercising their religious freedom,” Scales said at the time. “We all know what the laws are, so we have to make sure we’re doing what’s right.”

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School football cheerleaders garnered national attention in 2009 when a Fort Oglethorpe resident complained about the cheerleaders’ pre-game religious banners. Cheerleaders for years had made massive banners printed with Biblical scripture, and football players ran through the banners at the start of games.

In both cases, the school system said spontaneous, student-led prayer or expression of religion was acceptable, but it could not be organized by or encouraged by school officials.

Students in Soddy-Daisy now are allowed to gather before football games for prayer on campus, but the prayers cannot be broadcast over loudspeakers, the school system decided.

At Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, fans are allowed to display religious messages on their own signs, and students are allowed to hang banners outside the stadium, but the banners cannot be on the field.

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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