After a school board in Tennessee told coaches and teachers they could no longer lead students in prayer, a high school football team stepped up in a big way to support religious freedom — and people from across the country are taking notice.
Putnam County Schools administrators informed faculty and staff last week that moving forward they would be prohibited from leading students in prayer, WZTV-TV reported.
"The case law not allowing prayer or proselytizing is clear. Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing can not be sponsored by schools or school personnel," administrators said in the memo following a complaint issued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The anti-religious freedom group had moaned that several instances of "prayer and proselytizing" had occurred at events at Cookeville and Upperman high schools, making reference to the regular occurrence of prayer following high school football games.
In a statement to the local news outlet, administrators added: "As a district, we absolutely understand the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members. We support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers. That right is and will continue to be protected."
But, the board added, "We also understand that faculty and staff members can not lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers."
What was the response?
The new anti-prayer rule sparked immediate outrage in the community and prompted parents to organize a show of support following Upperman's game against Stone Memorial on Friday night.
"We do realize this is a public school, but it has always been optional for players to pray, and has been a voluntary event. Players that still want to pray will have to do it on their own," one parent, Dustin Whitefield, wrote to WZTV.
"After the game, players and cheerleaders that choose to will be on the field praying on their own. A group of parents will be going out on the field to support them," he said. "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 demonstration went according to plan. After Friday's game, scores of parents and fans gathered on the field and surrounded a large group of players from both teams. According to WZTV, the courageous players stepped up to lead the parents and fans in corporate prayer.
News of the demonstration quickly circulated after photos of the event were posted and spread on social media. Several responded with support and admiration.
"Satan's power was defeated tonight," one Putnam County Schools alum and fan wrote on Facebook.
"As the threat of a legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead prayer supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field. God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage," he added.
Many others chimed in with well wishes and support, saying, "Amen," "Praise God," and "Hallelujah!"
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