The Illinois High School Association is being challenged on a policy that bans Christian schools from offering a prayer or any religious message over their public address systems when they host association events on their own property.
"It is blatantly unconstitutional for public school officials to come into private schools and enforce a policy prohibiting them from expressing what's central to their religious beliefs," said David Cortman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, or ADF.
The ADF wrote this week to association chief Marty Hickman after several private schools complained about the new restrictions. WND left a message with Hickman seeking comment, but the call was not returned today.
"In enacting the policy, the IHSA was purportedly concerned that allowing private host schools to conduct customary pre-game prayers violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause," the letter said.
But the ADF reassured the assocation that the prayers are constitutional.
"To underscore this point, ADF makes the following offer: should the IHSA choose to rescind its new policy and go back to its neutral stance regarding the messages broadcast by private host schools over their public address systems, and a lawsuit is subsequently filed against the IHSA alleging an Establishment Clause violation, ADF would be willing to defend the IHSA free of charge in that lawsuit," said Cortman's letter.
However, if the policy is not rescinded, there also could be complications, the letter said.
"There is a strong likelihood that the IHSA's new policy violates the First Amendment rights of private Christian schools that host IHSA state series events," the letter said. "For this reason alone, and to avoid potentially needless litigation and a subsequent award of attorneys' fees, the IHSA should immediately rescind its new policy and continue to allow private host schools to conduct events as they have for years," Cortman said.
The ADF said the IHSA reportedly got "a few complaints from people who didn't like the prayers and religious announcements at the private schools," then came up with the new rule that prohibits "all prayer or religious messages" – even at private and Christian schools.