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God and football: The public prayer dilemma

When one thinks of pregame rituals for football, many people would consider the prayer part of it.  It has been seen in movies like “Varsity Blues,” “The Replacements” and “Remember the Titans.”  No one can dispute that it has taken place, and many embrace the practice, but the question has come up in recent years about legality.

The Constitution specifically states that we are to be a country forged not under a single religion, but that we are to embrace those that come from many.  Even with Christianity in all of its forms being the majority religious belief, according to a study done in March 2009 reported by the Christian Post, the number of non-religious Americans has doubled in every state from 1990.  On top of the decline in Christian believers, the total non-believer population has gone form 8 to 15 percent in the time frame.  This includes atheists (no God) and agnostics (not sure), as well as deistics (belief in a higher power, but not necessarily God).

The study also shows that mainline Christianity and Catholicism are on contraction, shedding numbers overall (some minor sects showing small gains, however) while a generic brand of Christianity has begun to consume a good portion of the non-denominational believers.

With prayer still being commonplace in sport, there are even some that wish to have public prayer before games for the crowd to take part in as well.  Given the data on the contraction in religious Americans over the last two decades, for us to uphold the rights granted to the populace by our government, this would be an offense against those who are of a non-Christian faith.

The Washington Post reported on a case the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 against the use of the PA system to announce public prayers at high school football games in Texas, even if they were student organized.  The ruling does not disallow private prayers, but it upholds the rights of those who do not wish to be subjected to it.  A private prayer doesn’t intrude on a citizen’s right to not participate, but a public prayer can isolate those who do not share the same belief.

This can also be applied to those of other religious faiths such as Islam, Buddhism and Hindu.  Their prayers, beliefs and understanding of their own religions do not work harmoniously with Christianity, Judaism, and Catholicism, and even the latter three contradict and cause friction among their own beliefs.  With the United States being a melting pot of many religions, for fair treatment to be upheld, even only to the religious and excluding those who do not believe, several forms of prayer would have to be held.

How many Christians would enjoy being forced to pray to Mecca?

Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University said it best.  “Not allowing it doesn’t mean you’re anti-religious or anti-faith; it means you’re trying to be respectful of everyone.  Sometimes being respectful to everybody means that you have to refrain from things you would prefer to do as a team because you don’t want to exclude or offend anyone.”

Those who choose not to support public prayer are not acting against those who are religious.  Most respect others rights to believe and take comfort in their religion and practice their faith.

Isn’t religion supposed to teach tolerance for other beliefs and respect anyway?