Prayer incident stirs brief controversy

Published 9:00 pm Sunday, February 12, 2012

Following a consolation game in abasketball tournament held Friday night at Enterprise AttendanceCenter, members of the Wesson Attendance Center and Loyd StarAttendance Center girls basketball teams stood at half-court,formed a circle and prayed.

    The entire gymnasium crowd applauded.

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    Friday’s events followed a controversy about post-game prayerduring Thursday’s second night of the tournament at Enterprise.

    After a game between the Wesson and Amite County girls basketballteams, witnesses reported Enterprise Principal Shannon Eubanksappearing to prevent the girls from praying together following thegame and ordering them off the court. Some also posted comments onFacebook about the incident.

    In an interview Friday, Eubanks said his actions weremisinterpreted.

    According to Eubanks, his concern was only in securing the courtfloor so that the next game in the tournament could proceed.Eubanks said his understanding was that the opposing coaches wouldshake hands and the court would then immediately be cleared.

    “You don’t want incidents to happen at mid court because of anytension,” Eubanks said. “Most of these games are on weeknights, soyou want the kids to get home.”

    Eubanks said he told the girls during the Thursday night incidentthey could pray in the dressing room but not on the court floor asit was being prepared for another game. In denying his intentionwas to target prayer, he pointed to the fact that the Wesson girlsprayed on the court during their warmups prior to the game with nointerruption.

    “They went to half court and had a silent prayer. All it did wastake away from their warm-up time,” Eubanks said. “It didn’tinterfere with anything.”

    Eubanks added that if the members of any team participating in thetournament had tried to offer a prayer after the tournament’sconclusion, he would not have intervened.

    Wesson Principal Ronald Greer declined to comment as to whether hisrecollection of events matched that of Eubanks. Wesson girlsbasketball coach Rusti Magee also offered no comment on thematter.

    Of Friday’s repeat of the post-game prayer, Eubanks said he decidedto let the court officials make all decisions and that he did notwish to further inflame controversy.

    “If I miscommunicated my intent Thursday, I take responsibility andapologize,” Eubanks said.

    The incident followed decisions made last semester by WessonAttendance Center and the Lincoln County School District to ceaseall prayers offered over school loud speakers before athleticevents.

    That decision was partially prompted when the Wisconsin-basedFreedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to school districtsthroughout Mississippi offering a summary of the laws pertaining toprayer at school-sponsored events.

    The letter highlighted a 2000 Supreme Court case, Santa FeIndependent School District v. Doe. In that case, the court ruledprayers offered before athletic events unconstitutional even ifthose prayers were student-initiated and student-led.

    Eubanks said schools must mindful of these constraints.

    “Students have a right to pray, but not a right to do so in a waythat forces any child to be a captive audience or force or compelsanyone to be a part of it,” the Enterprise principal said.