Employee files complaint about prayers broadcasted on loudspeaker at Bradley Central High football games

The Bradley Central High School offense comes off the field after a touchdown in front of a packed stadium. The Cleveland Blue Raiders visited the Bradley Central Bears in TSSAA football action on Sept. 15, 2017.

A Bradley County Schools employee is unhappy with how prayer is broadcast at Bradley Central High School.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the separation of church and state, recently sent a letter to the school district after the employee filed a complaint with the foundation. The complaint was in regards to the broadcasting of student-led prayer over the loudspeaker before Bradley Central High School football games last fall.

It's a constitutional violation, according to the foundation.

"We were notified that there was prayer being led over a loudspeaker before a football game," said Chris Line, a legal fellow with the organization. "Even when students lead it, when it is on school property like that, everyone in attendance is going to think it was school-sponsored."

The letter directed to the school district's attorney, Scott Bennett, who also represents the Hamilton County Department of Education, cited the Supreme Court decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which struck down a school policy allowing students to vote on whether to hold prayer at high school football games.

The court, the letter claims, reasoned a football game was a school-sponsored event and, therefore, hosting prayer was a constitutional violation.

The foundation said the district "must take immediate action to end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events" as it is a violation of the First Amendment.

But some Bradley County community members and students don't agree with the complaint.

On Sunday, a group came together at the high school for a prayer walk and worship service.

Organized by Cade Baker, a Central High alumnus, the service was intended to encourage the community to come together.

"I saw the outpouring of support on social media for prayer to be kept and felt like a service should be held to have people come together during this time," Baker, the organizer of the service, said. "I was wanting to let this be a time to just support and love one another. We made sure that the message was positive and nothing relating to a protest."

Baker, who graduated in 2007 but still lives in the community and attends Crossroads Community Church and First Baptist's Student Services, said he felt students' voices were being taken away.

"I feel that students should be able to stand up for what the believe and prayer is that outlet for many students," Baker said.

Though Baker does not agree with the Freedom From Religion Foundation's stance, he does believe its members have the right to express their beliefs. And he said, the aggrieved employee should have taken concerns to the school, rather than to a national organization.

This is not the first time a local school district has been accused of such a constitutional violation by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and similar groups.

Hamilton County Schools received a complaint in January 2017 alleging the coaches from East Ridge and Central high schools led or participated in prayer before a football game. Hamilton County investigated the incident and responded it was a community member, not a coach, who participated in the prayer in that instance. Central High's coach did admit to bowing his head, in concern for his injured player, during another incident in question.

Loudspeaker prayers before football games in Hamilton County Schools were banned in 2010 after some Soddy-Daisy High students complained.

The Bradley County Schools employee who filed the recent complaint has not been named.

Baker does not have official plans to hold another prayer service or ongoing events related to the complaint, but said he would not be opposed to doing so.

"I would love to do something else if the community would get involved," Baker said.

Bradley County Schools did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Attorney Scott Bennett has also not been reached.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.