The West Des Moines Community School District has stopped the Valley football team’s volunteer chaplain from praying with players before and after games.
In a statement Monday, West Des Moines Superintendent Lisa Remy said the district received written concerns from parents that the prayers were a violation of the First Amendment.
In turn, the district asked “self-described chaplain” Chris Barr to refrain from working with the team while the concerns are reviewed by the district’s legal counsel, Remy said.
Barr did not pray with players Friday night when Valley hosted Waukee.
Praying at public school sporting events has raised concerns across the country.
An online petition to “Keep Chris Barr as Tigers Chaplain” started by a Valley football player, said members of the Valley team walked from the midfield logo to the end zone and kneeled to pray before Friday’s game in support of Barr.
The petition had more than 1,200 supporters before it closed Monday morning.
“It is necessary for district administration to work with the athletic director and coaches to determine and make appropriate changes,” Remy said.
Barr is not an employee of the district. He works with West Des Moines Community Schools Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an independent organization that works with Christian students enrolled in West Des Moines schools. According to the district’s website, Fellowship of Christian Athletes holds meetings twice a month on Monday nights in the Valley High School cafeteria.
Barr could not be reached at time of publication.
Some states have enacted laws to address prayer in public schools. Iowa has not, but it still must follow federal laws regarding religion in public school.
So what exactly is prohibited by law?
- Leading official prayers, even if students are allowed to leave the room
- Requiring a moment of silence when the clear purpose is religious
- Conducting prayers over school’s loudspeaker system before football games, even if led by students
- Teaching a specific religion as the truth (history or traditions of various religions can be taught as part of history or sociology)