Indiana News

Parents sue school district over prayers at school events

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) – A Hobart school district faces a lawsuit over prayers that are said before athletic events, graduations and school board meetings from parents who say the prayers violate the First Amendment.

Jim and Nichole Bellar filed the lawsuit over the prayers at events in the River Forest Community School Corp. after they say their son was ostracized after raising objections.

American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana attorney Gavin Rose told The (Munster) Times the prayers represent a “serious and flagrant affront” to the First Amendment.

According to the lawsuit, the Bellars’ son, who is identified only by the initials J.B., has participated on several teams and has witnessed coach-led sectarian prayers before the games or matches.

The lawsuit says J.B. and another player complained to the football coach about the prayers and “were told that they had the option to just sit there and be quiet but that the prayers would continue and that they had to remain huddled with the team.”

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The lawsuit said Jim Bellar and his son complained about the prayers to the athletic director, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent and other staff members. They “were told generally that J.B. should simply learn to get along better with his coaches, and no corrective action was taken,” the lawsuit stated.

The Bellars say J.B., a sophomore, has felt ostracized by the prayers and has been singled out for harassment because of his objections to the practice.

“It is exceedingly unfortunate that a public school would choose to turn its own students into outsiders in this manner,” Rose said.

School officials didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.

The Bellars also are seeking to bar prayers and invocations given before monthly school board meetings and at graduation ceremonies.