Tennessee high school football players from opposing teams recently joined together on bended knee and led stadium attendees in a postgame prayer following warnings from school district officials that school employees and coaches could not lead students in prayer.
Players from Upperman High School of Baxter and rival Stone Memorial High School of Crossville led the on-field prayer time Sept. 17 at Tennessee Tech University’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville. Earlier in the week, Putnam County school administrators reminded school employees that they were prohibited from leading prayer with students during school-sponsored events.
Reportedly, county school officials issued their warning in response to complaints from the nonprofit group Americans United for Separation of Church and State that there had been instances of prayer and proselytizing at various high school events in the area.
Prior to the football game, the schools issued the following statement: “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. We also understand that faculty and staff members cannot lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers.”
Bob Vick, owner of an engineering firm in Cookeville, posted a photo of the post-game prayer assembly on Facebook, stating: “Satan’s power was defeated tonight, as the threat of a legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player-led prayer supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field. God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage.”
Vick, 75, told Decision he has been overwhelmed by the response to his Facebook post, which has included more than 3,000 shares on social media and prompted an interview with Fox News online. The Tennessee Tech alum, who also played defensive end for his college football team, said he couldn’t be more proud to witness more than 500 fans surround the football teams on the field as each team led in a prayer.
Vick said the response to his post on social media shows how strongly people feel about their freedom to express their faith. “I never dreamed that it would go this far,” Vick said, choking back tears, “but it’s a great start.”
In other news related to prayer on school campuses, First Liberty Institute announced this week that they are filing a second petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of former Washington state high school football coach Joe Kennedy, who was fired six years ago for silently praying on the 50-yard line after football games.
The high court declined to hear Kennedy’s case in 2019, but four justices indicated that they could be open to hearing the case in the future. Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh issued a rare statement about the lower appeals court ruling against Kennedy: “The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”
Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty president and CEO, said the Supreme Court justices’ statement is a cause for optimism that Kennedy’s appeal might get its day in the land’s highest court.
“We’re set up about as well as could be for a victory at the Supreme Court,” Shackelford said in a press release. “This could be the case that changes the precedent and really restores the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment for every American.”
Meanwhile, students around the globe observed the annual “See You At The Pole” at 7 A.M. local time September 22, by assembling together near flagpoles on their campuses to pray for their schools.
Photo: Courtesy of Bob Vick