SODDY-DAISY, Tenn. — A pastor in Tennessee is refusing to apologize for speaking about God at a public school assembly last month, where he gave a speech in memory of the 9/11 attack on American soil.
“Did I mention God in the speech that day?” Pastor Alan Stewart of Rechoboth Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy asked local television station WRCB-TV. “I sure did.”
Stewart had been invited to speak at Sale Creek Middle/High School on September 11th, and so, he decided that he wanted to give the students hope. According to a transcript of the speech, he mentioned God six times, and quoted one Scripture during his seven-minute talk.
“In the days that followed, as a pastor, I was asked a hundreds times, ‘How do you answer this from Scripture?'” he explained to students that day. “My mind recalled a moment in Luke 13:4 where Jesus had addressed a national event where the tower in Siloam had fallen on innocent people and their lives were lost.”
“It seems that there were some in the crowd holding the assumption that the horrific event was a form of judgment from God,” he continued. “When Jesus answered with a challenge to personal inspection and repentance, surely they were awakened to the fact that every story has more than one perspective.”
However, a parent at the school who was uncomfortable with Stewart’s references to God then contacted the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to lodge a complaint. In turn, the organization sent a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Education, remarking that it was a mistake for them to invite a pastor to speak at a public school.
“While it is laudable for Sale Creek Middle/High School to organize a memorial assembly honoring the victims of 9/11, it is unconstitutional to allow religious messages and prayer to be a part of a school-sponsored event,” FFRF wrote. “[I]ncluding prayer and references to a Christian God is divisive and isolating.”
But Stewart noted that on 9/11, much of the nation sought God and prayed–of their own will.
“It was a day in American history that our people came together and prayed across the land,” he told station WDEF. “They prayed not only in churches, they prayed in the marketplace, street corners and civil governments. No one should be coerced to pray, and no one should be forbidden to pray. That’s what our founding fathers stood for, and that’s what the Constitution and all the amendments have stood for, for all these years.”
Stewart says that he is not apologizing for his presentation, but is rather concerned that there are those that seek to silence speech about God.
“In the last 20 years of my life, I have watched the voice of respect of the church diminish,” Stewart told reporters. “I would have never dreamed since I was a little boy, I would be told in my country that I can’t pray. I can’t mention God.”
WRBC-TV reports that the school system says it has “retrained educators” about the separation of church and state in response to the letter from FFRF.