After a Tennessee high school was forced to end its longstanding tradition of public prayer over the public address system prior to the school's sporting events, the school's cheerleaders might have started a new gameday tradition where they lead the crowd in a pregame prayer.
With the Oneida High School public address announcer no longer reciting the pregame prayer for the first time since 1930, the school's cheerleaders used the pregame moment of silence in the Indians' first home game of the season on Sept. 12 to recite the Lord's Prayer and coincidentally rallied the entire stadium in reciting the prayer.
For the last 80 years, Oneida High School had maintained the tradition of praying before the start of the school's sporting events in asking for safety of the players and everyone involved. Despite the efforts in the last few years by activists groups like Americans Civil Liberties Union and Freedom From Religion Foundation trying to get school districts to ban prayers from school-sanctioned events, Oneida High continued with the tradition of pre-game prayers over the loudspeaker because the majority of the Oneida community felt the tradition was important.
But with growing political pressure and a fear of legal consequences looming, the director of the Oneida school district, Ann Sexton, said in a statement to Fox News that she decided to finally ban pregame prayers this year after she attended a law retreat in the summer where she was specifically given direction to end publicly announced prayer before games.
The school district decided to replace the prayer with a simple moment of silence before Oneida home football games. But during the moment of silence before the Indians' first home game this season against Watertown High School, Asia Canada, the cheerleading squad's co-captain, started quietly reciting "Our Father who art in Heaven."
Although she said she did not intend to rally the crowd or start a new school tradition, her prayer was echoed by her teammates and the other team's cheerleaders. By the end of the prayer, most of the stadium was reciting the Lord's Prayer.
"We start off, 'our Father who art in Heaven,' and then the cheerleaders are all saying it and then the next thing you know the crowd joins in with us," Canada said in an interview with "Fox and Friends" Friday. "It was an unforgettable moment just hearing everybody reciting the Lord's Prayer and it was amazing."
Although a tradition of having a student-led prayer that is not broadcast over the public address system might seem like a way of sidestepping the law, the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 in the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that nothing legally prohibits voluntary student-led prayer as long as it is not coerced by school officials.
"Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day," the decision read.
Although it is uncertain as to whether the cheerleaders will make it a tradition to voluntarily lead the crowd in pregame prayers, Canada said that if she and the rest of her cheerleading squad have the opportunity to lead the crowd in prayer at their next home game, they will. But she said if the cheerleaders don't get the opportunity, they will pray on their own.
Alley Meyers, another co-captain of the Oneida cheerleading squad, told "Fox and Friends" that she feels that prayer is necessary for football games.
"I feel like our community needs God in it, especially at football games," Meyers said. "We pray for the safety of each and every player out there and the cheerleaders and the fans for their drive home. I just feel like it needs to be in football games."