After a school board in Tennessee told teachers and coaches they could no longer lead students in prayer, members of the football team and their parents took matters into their own hands.
Last week, administrators with Putnam County Schools told staffers they would be barred from leading students in prayer in the future, a decision that came as a result of a letter from the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, according to WZTV-TV.
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After consulting with an attorney for the school board, a spokesperson for PCS said case law disallowing prayer or proselytizing “is clear,” noting, “Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing cannot be sponsored by schools or school personnel.”
An attorney for PCS enjoined district schools to comply with all laws and rules regarding prayer at school-sponsored events. The admonition followed several instances of post-game prayers at the Cookeville and Upperman high schools.
The district, for its part, acknowledged “the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members,” saying in a statement to the press that administrators “support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers.”
“That right is and will continue to be protected,” the district added. “We also understand that faculty and staff members cannot lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers.”
And that’s exactly what happened: The school board’s action sparked a faith-filled response from students and their parents, who planned a prayer event last Friday night after Upperman High School’s game against Stone Memorial.
One father, Dustin Whitefield, told WZTV-TV that, while he understands Upperman is a public school, post-game prayers should not be a problem because participation “has always been optional for players.”
“After the game, players and cheerleaders that choose to will be on the field praying on their own,” he said of the event. “A group of parents will be going out on the field to support them. We will join hands and encircle them from a distance as a sign of protection and solidarity in choosing to continue to pray. This is a parent led event! We are encouraging anyone that would like to show their support to please join us.”
The players and their parents came together for prayer after Friday night’s game.
Bob Vick, a graduate of a PCS school and a fan of the Upperman football team, posted a now-viral image of the demonstration.
“Satan’s power was defeated tonight, as the threat of legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead prayer, supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field,” Vick wrote. “God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage.”
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