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Virginia school bans lacrosse players from wearing ‘Pray for Peace’ shirts

A school bus. (Lori Martin/Dreamstime/TNS)
April 13, 2022

A Virginia high school has banned members of the girl’s lacrosse team from wearing a shirt that says “Pray for Peace.” The players created the shirt to honor their coach, who spent ten summers volunteering in Ukrainian orphanages.

After the Blacksburg High School lacrosse players wore the shirts during warmups, Montgomery County Public School officials sent each athlete on the team a notice forbidding them from wearing the shirts again, according to The Roanoke Times.

Claire Levison, a parent of one of the young athletes, said the team suggested they replace the word “pray” with “play,” but the attempted compromise was dismissed.  

“The Girls Lacrosse Team is no longer permitted to wear the Pray for Peace t-shirts at home or away events as warm up gear,” stated an email from the school, according to Levison. “The message conveyed by the shirts, although positive in nature and well meaning, can be interpreted as religious and political in nature.”

“Apparently, the administration of Montgomery County Public Schools wishes to remain neutral on praying, playing or even standing for peace,” Levison wrote on her Facebook page.

Levison argued that “Pray for Peace” does not fall under the umbrella of “separation of church and state” because it is a “universally accepted sentiment” used by “all Presidents in power, regardless of political party” or religious affiliation.  

“This was demonstrated when our current President, Joe Biden, said in his public response to Russia, ‘The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,’” Levison wrote.

“It was demonstrated when our former President, Donald Trump, said on Memorial Day, ‘In honor and recognition of all of our fallen heroes, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950, requested the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace.’”

During a school board meeting, Chairwoman Sue Kass questioned why the suggested change to “Play for Peace” was rejected because she struggled to see “how peace would be controversial.”

Interim Superintendent Annie Whitaker subsequently argued that calling for peace was inherently political and could therefore be deemed provocative.

“What is the peace from?” Whitaker asked. “A war. And a war is rooted in what? It’s a political war, from people who have differing views.”

“There isn’t really a reason within a sports team to be wearing school issued uniforms that are promoting anything other than the sport,” she continued. “The purpose of that sport is to play that sport.”

After attending the school board meeting, Levison pushed back on Whitaker’s assertion that peace is political.

“Could someone please let the Jews know that Hitler just had a different view than they had? Could someone please let the Buddhists know that Pol Pot just had a different view than they had? And could someone please let the Russians who were sent to the Gulags know that Stalin just had a different view than they had?” Levison wrote on Facebook. “Furthermore, peace is not just freedom from war.  Peace is harmony; peace is serenity; peace is tranquility. And don’t we all want more harmony, serenity, and tranquility in the world?”

“When the top administrator of our county’s education system takes the stance that even peace is controversial, our moral compass hasn’t just been broken,” she continued. “It’s been shattered into a million tiny pieces.”