Rhea Co. Schools under fire for led prayer - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Rhea Co. Schools under fire for led prayer

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Story by Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter

RHEA COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- Another Tennessee Valley school system has become the target of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

After last week's ban on led prayer at Hamilton County School's sporting events, neighboring Rhea County rallied behind Soddy-Daisy.

During their face-off, students and fans were invited down onto the field for a student-led prayer over the loudspeaker.

That's prompted the foundation to send Rhea County's school superintendent a warning letter.

The superintendent and other school officials tell us they don't know whether some students will lead a prayer, a moment of silence or do nothing.

Truly not knowing or not helping leaves the district in its most legally defensible position.

Rhea County's problem isn't the student-led prayer before last Friday's game, but how those praying, were led to it.

"What they've done is a sham solution with a student as a proxy," says Rebecca Markert with the Freedom of Religion Foundation.

"School officials, coaches, announcers for the game cannot organize, schedule or announce that the students are meeting at the 50 yard line to have a prayer," added Markert.

The lawyer for the Freedom from Religion Foundation says truly spontaneous, student led prayer is legal, constitutionally protected speech.

But how Rhea County senior and F.C.A President Jenny Yearwood came to lead it could, the foundation claims, get any public school district sued.

"I got told today, during lunch," says Yearwood.

"School officials can't be setting aside time for prayer, that's the law," says Markert.

Superintendent Jerry Levengood says he doesn't have time to go on camera, but that he's okay with how the P.A. announcer directed the crowd to the student led, pre-game, prayer at midfield last Friday.

But he also says the district will try not to break the law.

Rhea County native Katherine Colter believes students should, and will, find a way to pray.

"The children of today really are going to stand together and they're gonna hold prayer up," says Colter. "If we don't stand up for what we believe in, then what do we have?"

We've been unable to reach student leaders of Rhea County's Fellowship of Christian Athletes who led last Friday's prayer to determine their plans this Friday night.

Apparently, Rhea County Schools have no rules regarding who can be on a football field or for what reason before a game starts.

So, no official permission or sanction is required.

Superintendent Jerry Levengood says this letter likely will be a topic, when the Rhea County School Board meets November 11th.

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