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Pre-game prayers sacked at Blount County high schools

Words of prayer will no longer be spoken into microphones like this one at Blount County High School football games.

Normally, before high school football games in Blount County, you can hear a pregame prayer read over the loudspeakers. This Friday and every Friday going forward, that will no longer be the case.

Recently, the school district received a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation ensuring the district will no longer schedule a prayer at school-sponsored events. The letter said prayers before district football games are inappropriate and and unconstitutional. The Foundation says the district not only endorses the prayers by allotting time for them, but provides the public address system to broadcast it.

"The complaint alleges that because we are doing that over the PA system, that it is inappropriate," Blount County Schools Superintendent Rodney Green said. "That is something that we have had to go back and examine, and we have decided to go back and make a change in that practice."

Now, the district will just hold a moment of silence prior to the National Anthem.

"My first reaction was a human reaction: a little aggravation," parent Scott Williamson said. "Pondering that and thinking about that, that is probably not the right reaction. My next reaction was actually that this is an awesome opportunity for a positive message to come out. Not a negative one."

Gregg Armstrong is also the parent of a Locust Fork student. He said starting at this Friday's Locust Fork game and other games in the county, some in attendance will say the Lord's Prayer in unison during the moment of silence before the National Anthem.

"We are not doing this by any way to be negative or anything like that," Armstrong said. "We are just doing this with love and doing what we feel like God has called us to do. I believe if you have 1,000 people in those bleachers saying the Lord's Prayer vocally, not over a PA system, that is probably going to be a little bit more moving than just one person praying. There is strength in numbers, and certainly, everyone has the right to do what they want to, but we feel like we should take this stand."

Armstrong added that local churches got together and purchased shirts that have the Lord's Prayer on the back of them. He said those shirts would be given away off school grounds to anyone who wishes to wear one to games. Wednesday night, a Facebook group in favor of prayer before the games was created. That group is called "We Will Not Be Silenced." So far, the group has more than 6,000 members.

Despite the push-back, the Freedom From Religion Foundation maintains the school system is breaking the law by hosting the prayers.

Attorney Ed Merrell concurs, saying it is illegal to pray in schools and at functions.

"Government is not allowed to force religion on the public," said Merrell.

So why then are school boards allowed to pray? And why is prayer allowed at city events, even city council meetings?

"It's the idea of the captured audience," said Merrell, referring to the students who are required to be at these events.

"I think the point the Supreme Court is trying to make is not that we're trying to take God out of the schools, but rather that we're trying to make it open to everybody," said Merrell.

Here's something to think about. Many private schools pray, and many of them also take government money. Should they not be held to the same standard as public schools?

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