After a state official advised a rural Kentucky school district against having a minister lead prayers before athletic events, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams is calling on Democratic Governor Steve Beshear to defend the practice.
A Kentucky Department of Education attorney told Bell County school officials that allowing Christian prayer at the beginning of football games is unconstitutional and recommended they “cease this activity immediately.”
Williams says the governor is ignoring the religious freedom of Kentuckians by not coming out in support of their First Amendment rights.
“I call on Gov. Beshear to denounce this attack on prayer at public functions and lead the efforts of state government to defend our citizens’ right to voluntarily pray anywhere they choose,” he says.
The Beshear administration swatted away Williams’s call, however, and responded by pointing out that the state agency answers to the commissioner of education and not the governor.
“David Williams should know that the Department of Education is an independent department, that does not answer to the governor,” says Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson. “It appears that Bell County Superintendent (George) Thompson decided that based upon various court rulings the school district was likely to lose an expensive court battle. Apparently a KDE lawyer agreed with his assessment.”
The state Senate president has been courting social conservatives since the GOP primary, reminding voters about his opposition to expanded gaming and his views on abortion. Earlier this year, Williams spoke at the church of anti-gay activist Frank Simon, whose organization was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups last year.
Trailing Beshear in the polls by more than 20 points, Williams has pounced on the issue and reminded voters of the governor’s previous positions, including his so-called “war on Christmas” after the governor dubbed the giant evergreen a “holiday tree” instead of a Christmas tree in 2009.
“Steve Beshear has a troubling history of failing to protect our precious freedom of religion,” Williams said in a statement. “As attorney general, he ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms was unconstitutional. As governor, he decided to call the state’s Christmas tree a ‘holiday tree.’ And now his administration has advised the Bell County school system to end the tradition of praying before football games.”