"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.
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.
"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.
The letter explained there would be no possibility of a reasonable person thinking that a practice at an individual private school somehow was IHSA's attempt to establish religion.
"Directing where event attendees park their vehicles and sit in the stands, choosing who gets to sing the national anthem, promoting good sportsmanship and civility amongst participants and fans, providing concessions stands for food and refreshments – and yes, even what types of message are broadcast on the public address system before, during, and after games – these things are all part of how a particular school hosts an event conducted at its own facilities and on its own property," the letter said.
"Only an unreasonable and uninformed observer would take offense at a pre-game prayer at a private school that occurs as part of that school's customary procedures with no oversight by the IHSA," it continued.
"In fact, what the IHSA should be concerned about under these facts is not the appearance of impermissible endorsement, but rather that a reasonable observer would likely perceive hostility toward the religious speech and practices of private host schools," Cortman wrote. "You must keep in mind that Establishment Clause jurisprudence requires neutrality and forbids hostility toward religion."
Further, such bans on religious speech cannot be supported legally, ADF said.
"Even though private schools have well-settled constitutional free speech rights to express their religious mission and beliefs, the IHSA chooses to discriminate against these schools on the basis of the content and viewpoint of their speech by banning their prayer and religious messages. This is clearly at odds with established Supreme Court precedent," Cortman said.