Prayer at public school football games has been a frequent target of atheist activist groups, particularly when it comes to high schools and colleges in Tennessee. Last September, high school football coaches in Westmoreland found themselves in hot water for bowing their heads during student-led prayers. And now, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has taken the extraordinary step of banning prayers before games.
WATE-TV has more about how the ban came to fruition:
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials banned public prayer before football games after receiving a complaint. Now some Knoxville student fear the same kind of ban will be put in place at Neyland Stadium.
The prayer complaint sent to school officials in Chattanooga came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization says a local person complained in May about prayer at games.
Freedom From Religion Foundation officials say it is rare to get complaints about universities, but that is not keeping students on Knoxville's campus from speaking out on the issue.
The school's chancellor, Roger Brown, announced this week that the university will now issue a moment of silence rather than a spoken prayer before each game. The decision comes after the FFRF complaint and after the university's Secular Student Alliance (SSA), an atheist student group, protested the previous prayer practices.
"We believe this allows all in attendance to reflect and address their individual beliefs in their own ways," Brown said, according to The Chattanooga Free Press reports. "Events such as football games should provide opportunities to bring all members of our community together."
Naturally, the atheist student group is praising the new-found ban.
"In order to have separation of church and state, public schools do not need to be having prayers at these public events," SSA member Elisabeth Spratt proclaimed.
But Christian students aren't happy with the prayer change. TJ Earl, a Baptist Collegiate Ministry intern, for one, made his discontent known. Aside from claiming that he's disappointed, he expressed anger over the ban.
"Not shocked at all," he said. "Disappointed, and kind of puts a little bit of rage inside me, to be honest. I don't think it's appropriate."