Threat of lawsuit ends prayer before Kentucky school’s games

Cameron Smith

It took the threat of a lawsuit -- and potential big money fines -- but a Kentucky high school did finally agree to give up a longstanding tradition of having a minster lead a prayer before each and every home football game.

Bell County football

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bell County (Ky.) High passed on the opportunity to open Friday's football game against Lexington (Ky.) Catholic High with a prayer after being threatened with a lawsuit in a formal complaint filed by the Madison, Wis.-based non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation. The photo you see above was taken during that season opener for both teams.

While the decision to abandon open public prayer may not have sat well with many Bell County fans, who have grown accustomed to hearing the traditional pregame prayer just after the national anthem, the school had little choice but to end the practice following a letter sent to Bell County Superintendent George Thompson in early August.

"The prayers at the football games constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion," Freedom From Religion lawyer Rebecca Markert wrote in the letter, according to the Herald-Leader.

The Freedom From Religion letter also cited the language leading into the traditional prayers as clear proof that it included illegal Christian overtones, beginning with a plea to have all in attendance bow their heads in prayer. While it's unknown who originally disclosed the pregame prayer practice to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the organization has acknowledged that he or she was a local resident who had attended a game and was startled by the formal prayer.

Now, fans who have been going to Bell County games for decades are startled that a prayer isn't heard before the start of a game.

"People were kind of jolted when we did the national anthem and then kicked off" without the prayer, Thompson told the Herald-Leader. …

"It's one of those things, you really have nowhere to go. Folks were pretty upset about it. Facebook has gone wild."

Unfortunately for Bell County fans who were fond of the opening prayer, the threat of significant financial losses will all but certainly keep the Christian tradition from returning. In two prior cases of illegal prayer before high school activities in Kentucky, a judge ordered cash-strapped counties to pay the American Civil Liberties Union a whopping $400,000 for similar violations.

That doesn't mean area residents have to be happy about the decision, of course.

"It's sad that one person or two can stop this when there are so many of us wanting this," Sandra Stepp, the wife of Rev. Ray Stepp, who had led the Bell County prayer for nearly 20 years, told the Herald-Leader.

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