Stephenville, TX – The August 27th football season opener for the Stephenville High School Yellow Jackets was not only memorable for the lop-sided victory they had, but also for the courage shown by the student body and the fans in the crowd. A district federal judge had issued a decision forbidding prayer at public school gatherings, even if initiated by students. The students of Stephenville High believe this is a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of religion. The student body not only takes pride in being the defending 4A state champions, but in exercising their constitutional rights.
Before the opening kickoff, one of the students of Stephenville High grabbed a microphone and led a "spontaneous" prayer. Several students joined the young man on the sidelines, but what was even more powerful was the fact that not some, but all of the people in the stands stood up, removed their hats and joined in the prayer. Local news stations were there to cover the game and questioned the police and high school administrator as to what they planned to do about the "illegal" praying. There was no response from the police, but the high school administrator simply said that no actions were to be taken against the students. School officials also pointed out that since the school had not officially sanctioned the action, it could not be held legally liable for what happened.
The federal judge, upon hearing about the public prayer, said that the prayer was in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. Some supporters of the students pointed out that the Constitution does not demand separation of church and state, but guarantees that there will be no laws made establishing any official religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Students interviewed said that they planned to pray publicly at their next game.
One thing that most local reports on the event failed to mention was that it was not just the Stephenville students and supporters, but their football adversaries as well that stood up to be counted. The Weatherford High School Kangaroos, and all their fans, honored the brave individuals that dared to challenge the edict of a federal judge by standing with them during the prayer. With reporters scouring the crowd for an opposing view, not one person was found whom the prayer offended. Still the judge finds this act illegal and irresponsible!
What happens going forward from here depends on how determined the judge is to force his will on the people, and how determined the citizens of Stephenville are to defend their constitutional rights. For one night at least, this was seen as a victory for Texans in the exercise of their rights. As for Weatherford High, it was the one bright spot in a night that resulted in a 34-7 loss to the Yellow Jackets.
August 28, 1999