Prayer at PeeWee football games contentious issue in Vernon

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Vernon- The age-old seperation of church-and-state argument has surfaced again here in the panhandle. Vernon's city council meeting was packed Monday night with people upset over a complaint about prayer at PeeWee football games.

This dispute started after one of the coaches, who is also the parent of one of the players, voiced his concern about the team kneeling on the field before the game and saying a group prayer. That upset a lot of the other parents. Many of them turned out for Monday night's city council meeting to voice their support of the players continuing to pray.

Louie Fromm says his children are being wrongfully singled out since they step away from 50 yard line during the prayer. He feels their 1st Amendment rights are being violated. During the meeting he said this: "This reference is in formal protest to the manner and method in which the Bonifay PeeWee Association dictates prayer that is in question strictly based upon the establishment clause. So those of you here tonight to hear the terms and conditions required to appease a single upset individual I say to you that you have been grossly misinformed and blinded by a small group of religious fundamentalists who would like to convince you that a single individual is attempting to take away, of all phrases, your 1st Amendment rights, when I am in fact here to make you aware that yours and your children's rights to religious freedom under the US constitution have already been hijacked by that very same group already."

Debbie Gunner, the Secretary of Bonifay PeeWee football, says the prayer is voluntary. During the meeting she said: "Before the start of every game I do this (gesture come). Then whoever would like to pray comes to the 50 yard line, I say hello to the children, tell them I love them and I hope they have a good season. The children take a knee, their helmets are removed and I say a short prayer." Fromm suggested a moment of silence instead, but there was no audience support for that idea.

The league is part of the city's recreation program. Because PeeWee football is a private-parent run organization the city council can give an opinion, but does not have jurisdiction over the group.

Fromm says his son was beat up because he does not participate in the prayer. The parent of the other child involved in the fight said it was an unrelated playground squabble.

Fromm has on tape a recording of a recent Vernon City Council meeting during which city council members can be heard laughing at what they believe to be Fromm's religion. He played it during his comments Monday night.

The issue is now in the hands of the city attorney.

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