A Catholic high school in North Dakota believes prayer is at the heart of every activity — even a football game. But the state’s high school activities association is challenging that practice. Earlier this month, Shanley High School — a private Catholic school in the Saint John Paul II Catholic Schools Network in Fargo, ND — was prohibited from saying a prayer over its PA system before a playoff football game, even though it has done so throughout the season for regular games. The North Dakota High School Activities Association claims that it is a “public entity” and that playoff games are “sponsored” by the association. Since the association is a government entity, it believes allowing prayer over a loudspeaker before the playoff game is an endorsement of religion. “Our schools are committed to academic excellence and being true to our Catholic faith,” Saint John Paul II Catholic Schools Network superintendent Dr. Michael Smith told CNA. “Students are reminded daily that we are a community inspiring excellence through faith, learning and service. What is excellence? Excellence in faith is praying before everything you do, whether you are studying, eating or playing a football game. This is our tradition.” “The Supreme Court has clearly held that it is unconstitutional to require private entities to give up their religious identity in order to participate in government sponsored programs,” said a Thomas More Society legal letter sent to the association on behalf of the high school. “Shanley’s identity as a private actor, with a religious identity, gives it the right to engage in religious expression on its own property.” “A policy by the Association forcing Shanley to give up that right in order to participate in a merit-based sports post-season requires the school to choose between participating in a government activity, which it has earned, and engaging in the speech rights that are protected by both the United States and North Dakota Constitutions.” Despite receiving the legal letter, the association did not change its position. As a result, Shanley High School was forced to forfeit saying a prayer over its PA system before the Nov. 7 playoff game. The school is discussing next steps with their attorneys. “We are respectful of the association and want to have a productive dialogue concerning our request,” said Smith. “Students should be allowed to practice their faith publicly.” “We are not trying to make a political statement. We are trying to do what is right. And I hope through polite dialogue, we will be able to reach a positive conclusion with the association.”
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