JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - It's an issue that's stirring up a lot of debate in Mississippi -- prayer at school-sponsored events. This month, the Jackson County School Board adopted a policy that spells out what is and is not allowed at football games.
The new "student message policy" comes after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to superintendents across Mississippi. The organization said student-led prayers at football games and graduation violate the First Amendment.
Before kick-off, prayers have been a part of high school football games in Jackson County for years. But, the Jackson County School Board is changing that practice after being put on notice by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
"We received letters throughout the state admonishing superintendents to cease the practice of having prayer, even if it was student led, and so we looked at our legal options," said Jackson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Amacker.
The board is giving high school principals in Vancleave, East Central, and St. Martin two options. They can choose to observe a moment of silent reflection that will be announced over the PA system.
"We've written out exactly what they would say, honoring America and having this moment of silent reflection. And at that time, individually, people could pray if they wanted to," said Amacker.
The second option is to allow a randomly selected-student to give a two-minute message.
"It's a student message and if their message happens to be prayer or whatever, than that would certainly be up to the student. We will not be able to monitor it, approve it," said Amacker. "We won't, as administrators, influence what the message is and that kind of thing other than it can't be a vulgar, or profanity or illegal motion of any kind."
The new policy only applies to high school football home games, and other home athletic events selected by the school administrators.
"We're not promoting or taking away prayer. It's just our role in the whole process as a school has got to be legally defensible, and I think we have that," said Amacker.
Last spring, the Jackson County School Board adopted a separate policy for graduation. That policy allows a student speaker to deliver a two-minute message before and after the ceremony.