South Pittsburg football prayer time challenged as Marion County seeks identity of complainant

South Pittsburg football prayer time challenged as Marion County seeks identity of complainant

September 6th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling South Pittsburg High School's pre-game prayer service, dubbed "Meet Me at the 50," unconstitutional.

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Unconstitutional.

That's what the Freedom From Religion Foundation dubs South Pittsburg High School's "Meet Me at the 50" pregame time of student-led prayer and worship on the school's football field.

"Pretty darn upset" is how Marion County Superintendent of Schools Mark Griffith feels about the Wisconsin-based organization's continued questioning of the event's legality.

"We are within the boundaries of the law, and we will continue doing [Meet Me at the 50] until someone tells us otherwise," Griffith said Thursday.

He said no Marion County-purchased equipment is used during the event.

According to a news release, the issue came up last year when an unnamed party complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation about pregame prayers over the PA system at South Pittsburg High School football games.

"We hope you will understand why the complainant contacted us rather than the administration on this matter," Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney for the national state/church watchdog, said in the release.

Markert said in the release that the party was "offended by [the event's] religious content."

She said the complainant is granted anonymity "so that there is no negative interaction between the complainant and administrators at that school."

Thursday, Griffith questioned whether the complainant is even a Marion County resident or has legal standing. According to state and federal laws, a legal suit may only be brought by someone with standing -- that is, someone affected by an action. In South Pittsburg's case, that could be a city or county resident who does not want tax dollars used for religious practices.

"We're not certain that this person even has a right to make this complaint," he said.

Griffith said since the foundation is pursuing the matter, the school board attorney is going to file suit today to discover the complainant's identity.

South Pittsburg High School athletic director Vic Grider did not want to comment Thursday evening, citing the "sensitivity" of the matter.

No one from the Freedom From Religion Foundation was available to comment Thursday evening.

Griffith said the school system has done nothing wrong.

"I'm not sure how they think 'Meet Me at the 50' is a violation of the Constitution," he said. "There is nothing different in this and 'Meet Me at the Flagpole.'"

Griffith also said foundation's pursuit goes against the majority of county residents' wishes.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the population in our county approves of [Meet Me at the 50]," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at 423-757-6731 or agreen@timesfreepress.com.