Atheist group asks UTC to stop game day prayer
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The home game, pre-game tradition may be as old as Mocs football itself; in place well before the Methodist-Episcopal-founded University of Chattanooga became part of the public University of Tennessee system.
"It's a prayer for safety for the players, a prayer for the safety for all the crowd,' says Jay Fowler, regional director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"Just for God to be honored in the way the teams competed."
The prayer leader delivers it over Finley Stadium's public address system. When an FCA member delivers it, the prayer closing by invoking Jesus' name.
"Pray on your own time," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, founder of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"Christian-only prayers are impermissible at public universities. They make non-cChristian and non- religious people feel like outsiders."
The Foundation is the same group that protested similar practices at Soddy Daisy High School and Rhea County High School in 2010.
It also sent letters to the Hamilton County Commission earlier this year, demanding it cease opening its meetings with prayer. Since then, two Hamilton County citizens have sued the Commission in U.S. District Court, claiming such prayers violate the Constitution's 'Establishment Clause.'
Gaylor says the Foundation acted after receiving a complaint from a UTC student, who wishes to remain anonymous.
She and the Foundation sent a similar letter to UTC Chancellor Dr. Roger Brown May 15. Getting no response, she sent a follow up letter July 16.
"It wasn't presented a legal issue or anything like that." UTC Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell says.
"It wasn't a lawsuit or anything like that."
Not yet, anyway.
"This might end up being court case," Gaylor says. The precedent is too clear."
Gaylor cites Chaudhuri v. State of Tennessee, a case that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard in 1997, which struck down sectarian prayers at public universities.
"A moment of silence would be an acceptable legal compromise," Gaylor says.
So too, apparently, would be unsanctioned, or "spontaneous" prayers, provided they were student-led, not delivered via public address system, and that school employees did not sanction the practice nor direct game attendees to them.
Rhea County High School's FCA chapter has adopted this practice since 2010, when the Foundation admonished school administrators that led-prayers were unconstitutional.
But the line is fine.
"If it keeps happening, it's not spontaneous," Gaylor says.
"In some cases, it makes matters worse because it pits students against students.Nobody ever misses prayer, by the way, when you stop it. There may be some protests, but those usually die down pretty quickly.
UTC appears to be under no pressure to react quickly, though the Mocs' first home football game is September 13, less than four weeks away.
"We've had one original conversation," UTC's Cantrell says.
"We're going to get together as a group in a couple of weeks, maybe next week."
"If we're asked by UTC to continue offering prayers the same way we have, we certainly will," THE FCA's Fowler says.
'The same way' is a key phrase. Fowler himself has delivered one of the prayers.
"They wouldn't ask us if we (the FCA) have to leave Jesus out," he says.
"They know where we stand."
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - An atheist group has asked the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to discontinue Christian prayers before football games.
UTC Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/Nsq8Mw ), the university is reviewing a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The same group complained to the Hamilton County Commission about prayer. Later, county residents Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones filed a lawsuit, seeking to stop it. The lawsuit has not yet been tried in court.
The atheist organization sent a letter dated May 15 to Chancellor Roger Brown, asking the university to halt what group Co-President Laurie Gaylor described as "unlawful university sponsorship of Christian prayer."
The letter continued, quoting legal precedent and, eventually, the Bible.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com
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