JEFCOED Superintendent sets record straight about the district’s stance on prayer at school events
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - Jefferson County’s School Superintendent set the record straight on Friday, April 8, 2022, about prayer in schools saying anyone who thinks the school district is against it is wrong.
This all stems from complaints from parents that multiple high schools opened their football games with a scheduled prayer, and some students were uncomfortable with the practice.
Superintendent, Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, read a statement before a special called board meeting Friday attempting to clear up confusion about the district’s stance on prayer during school activities.
“The right to pray and to religious expression is guaranteed under our laws and constitution. Any assertion that the Jefferson County School System will no longer permit school prayer during school activities is simply not correct,” Dr. Gonsoulin said.
Last September, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter asking the Jefferson County School System to stop scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events, saying a parent reported their child felt uncomfortable when both Gardendale and Pinson Valley High Schools opened football games with prayer broadcast over the loudspeaker.
“To the extent to 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,” Dr. Gonsoulin explained.
An attorney for the school district responded to the foundation’s letter saying, “The superintendent met with school principals and the administration will not allow prayer at school-sponsored events.”
But Dr. Gonsoulin said the attorney’s letter wasn’t intended to provide a comprehensive analysis of school prayer in every context.
“While it was sent in good faith and with the best of intentions, it was not reviewed or approved by the superintendent or the board before it was sent,” Dr. Gonsoulin said.
The superintendent did not take any questions following his statement Friday, so it’s unclear how prayer will be handled at school-sponsored events going forward.
But Dr. Gonsoulin said he and the school board fully support the right of its students, and all members of the education community, to pray and engage in voluntary religious expression in school settings.
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