Debate continues over prayer at UTC football games - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Debate continues over prayer at UTC football games

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CHATTANOOGA, TN. (WRCB)  --  Football's the game in which a desperation pass for a touchdown carries the nickname 'Hail Mary'.

So it's not improbable that a meeting between the University of Tennessee-Chatttanooga's new chapters of Campus Christian Ministries and the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) should be called a 'prayer huddle.'

"Prayer does not need to be a divisive issue," SSA member Brandon Jones says. "Nobody needs to oppose what you're doing. Nobody need to oppose what we're doing."

The SSA is among the groups trying to stop UTC from continuing to open Mocs home football games with led, Christian prayers.

Jones, and fellow SSA member Tommy Coleman, also are the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit demanding that the Hamilton County Commission cease opening its meetings with similar prayers.

"They have excluded many other faiths," Coleman says.

Yet Tuesday, they endorsed CCM founder Corey Garrett's efforts to expand opportunities for prayer at UTC sporting events.

"It's a process for prayer to be available, even more available than was available previously," Garrett says.

"(Because)  there's no government or school sponsorship," Coleman explains.

"It's not going to be  groups of people praying inside the venue," Garrett says.

"It's set up so if you come and you see me in the stands, and you tap me on the shoulder and you say--'can you come pray with me,', we'll pray together."

"This is something that we will support," Coleman responds.

Garrett is a UTC alum. He, and a corps of UTC students, are recruiting Mocs fans to serve as 'prayer' volunteers during games inside Finley Stadium, Frost Stadium, and for all home games and meets in other sports in which UTC fields teams.

CCM has applied for recognition as a student group. But concerns over separation of church and state mean that UTC does not require faculty or staff to 'sponsor' campus religious organizations. Non-religious groups, including the SSA,must have faculty or staff sponsorship.

Ironically, the same church-state concerns driving the challenge to 'led by loudspeaker' prayer, provide the window for Garrett's group to expand opportunities to pray, with no need to seek permission from UTC.

"It's prayer in the venue, but you (the fan) are seeking me (the volunteer) out for prayer, not the other way around," Garrett says.

Prayer volunteers will wear white T-shirts, emblazoned with CCM's logo.

"These are spontaneous prayers, for those in need," he says.

UTC Chancellor Dr. Roger Brown has not responded to two letters from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, demanding that the University cease opening Mocs home football games with prayers led by members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Those letters are will be a hot topic when Dr. Brown meets with staff and other administrators Wednesday, according to Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell.

"We likely won't decide anything (about prayer), but we'll likely get our marching orders to seek more legal advice," he says.

Cantrell confirms that UTC would have no objection to Garrett's prayer initiative "provided such activities neither distract or detract from the games, nor from fans' enjoyment of them."

Garrett has planned to station volunteers outside Finley Stadium for the Mocs' home opener against Glenville (WV) State September 13.

"What we get out of this is the full body of Christ being able to come together," he says.

"We would fight for their right to pray at a game," Coleman says. "They're not asking to do it over the loudspeaker."

"We would encourage Hindus or Jewish groups to do precisely what Mr. Garrett's group is doing."

To learn more about CCM, or to enlist as a prayer volunteer: www.utccampuschristians.com

To learn more about SSA, and its opposition to led prayers at public events: www.facebook.com/groups/UTCSSAMOCS/

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