Harrison County superintendent attempts to clarify memo regarding student prayer

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Harrison County superintendent attempts to clarify memo regarding student prayer
By Aaron Payne in News | WV MetroNews

CLARKSBURG, W. Va. – After a memo regarding prayer conducted at athletic events was sent out by the county school system, the Superintendent of Schools in Harrison County is attempting to clarify its meaning.

“I’ll be the first to admit that the memo probably wasn’t as clear as it could have been,” Superintendent Mark Manchin said on Tuesday’s edition of “The Mike Queen Show” on the AJR News Network. “In retrospect, perhaps, [the county] could have looked at it a little closer but I take full responsibility for it being out there.”

The memo was issued in response to a letter sent out by a national organization asking that the county cease and desist allowing a coach for a high school football team to lead prayer and invite members of the other team to join, based on the Establishment Clause.

After receiving the letter, Manchin said he “called the principal up and informed him as to what was going on and he said he was aware of it and he indeed addressed it almost immediately. That, I thought, was that, but we actually did send out a memo trying to clarify, but I think what created is a bit of a firestorm.”

The memo attempted to explain that coaches could not lead prayer or ask other to join in, due to the fact coaches are considered part of the “state.”

“If it’s sponsored by the state, it infringes upon the Establishment Clause, but individuals, and that includes students, have every right to pray as they see fit,” Manchin said. “I do want to make sure that’s clear.”

He presented a scenario pertinent to the memo, in which students and coaches still have the right to pray together.

“If the quarterback stands up and says ‘Listen, everybody come over here. We want to say a prayer.’ And the coaches are in attendance and kneeling, I would be supportive and be willing [to defend] that if it’s led by a student. Simply because adults are there, even employees are there, that does not infringe upon the establishment clause.”

Manchin said he wasn’t sure if there would be complaints or legal action taken against the county in this scenario, but was clear the county would stand up for the individual rights of students and others to pray.