Oklahoma, Arkansas come out strongly in defence of students' right to pray in school

Students at Hollywood High School in California gather for the 'See You at the Pole' prayer.(Instagram/Michael Bowles)

Officials in at least two American states—Oklahoma and Arkansas—are making a strong stand in defence of religious speech in US public schools against groups seeking to ban prayers on campuses.

In Oklahoma, Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the ban on prayers at high school sporting events is too broad and the activity should be allowed.

Pruitt issued his legal opinion on the new policy of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) approved in June which reportedly prohibits the recitation of prayers at OSSAA events.

Slaughterville Republican Rep. Bobby Cleveland sought Pruitt's opinion on the policy.

"You just can't uniformly, arbitrarily say, 'We are going to allow all speech except religious speech,' and that is why it is overbroad," Pruitt said, adding that banning religious speech violates the Constitution and students' rights since the state allows open announcements in public forums.

Cleveland also slammed the OSSAA policy.

"How can an organisation or even the government tell someone that they cannot pray," Cleveland said. "It's fine if OSSAA officials don't want to take part. It's fine if anyone present doesn't want to take part. Why is it okay to tell people they can't pray?"

He added, "Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. It takes an awful lot of twisting around to get the concept so backwards. It is amazingly clear cut when you break it down, isn't it?"

In Ashdown, Arkansas, a school district is also defending prayers in schools after the atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) demanded a ban on prayers.

Ashdown School District Superintendent Jason Sanders said they didn't break any laws.

"We feel like that the freedom of our students to express themselves will hold up in a court of law," Sanders said.

He said student groups will lead the introductions at school events in the future.

FFRF staff attorney Elizath Cavell said they sent a letter to the school after they were contacted by a student.

"We were informed that staff are participating in prayer or inappropriately injecting religion into their public school role," said Cavell, according to KTBS.

She said, "probably 60 percent of the letters that we send all year have to do with violations in public schools just like this."