SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A nationally-recognized Christian legal group has mailed letters to school districts throughout Tennessee in an effort to defend the practice of prayer at school football games.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) crafted the letters as a counter to correspondence recently sent by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which complained about the prayers after it learned that a number of schools were allowing the invocations.
“The absence of school-endorsed prayer from a public school’s athletic event does not impose any burden on the ability of students to personally affirm their religious beliefs, ” the ACLU wrote to the 135 districts. “[W]e do not want to see taxpayers, students and parents in your school district ostracized and excluded if they do not wish to participate in unconstitutional, state-endorsed prayer at athletic events.”
A recent poll by the Chattanooga Times Free Press shows that the majority of its readers agree, with 54 percent rejecting the prayers and 45 percent supporting the practice.
But ADF asserts that the ACLU letter “makes misleading blanket statements about prayer at school,” and states that students have the right to pray under the law.
“School officials often mistakenly believe that allowing students to engage in religious speech at school would violate the so-called ‘separation of church and state’—a doctrine often cited in connection with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,'” it wrote. “To the contrary, when it comes to student expression, the First Amendment protects the right of students to share their faith at school.”
The organization stated that school districts should continue with the pre-game prayers and not feel intimidated by the ACLU.
“The fear associated with a lawsuit by anti-religious groups is understandable,” it continued. “But rather than ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ and banning all prayer at sporting events as the ACLU of Tennessee would encourage you to do, your school district can adopt a neutral policy that allows students to give a pre-game message, including one that contains a prayer if the student speakers so chooses, prior to the start of sporting events.”
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney also sent a letter to the districts, opining that the ACLU is using “scare tactics” to end student led prayer at games.
“With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization,” he wrote. “[The ACLU] misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.”
Devaney has also launched a petition drive to show support for the right to pray at school.
“Don’t let the Tennessee ACLU and liberals ban student led prayer,” it reads. “Like most Tennesseans, the TNGOP believes in protecting faith, family and freedom.”
A number of schools across the state allow students to pray before football games. As previously reported, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently wrote to officials in South Pittsburg to demand that it end its “Meet Me at the 50” pre-game prayer practice, where students pray at the 50-yard line before battling each other on the field.