Tennessee students, parents gather to pray after school board's prayer restriction

Football field | Unsplash/Andrew McElroy

Tennessee high school football players and their parents fought back in prayer after the school board told teachers and coaches they could no longer lead students in prayer during or after games.

According to WZTV-TV, administrators of Putnam County Schools notified their staff members that they are prohibited from leading students in prayer after receiving a demand letter from the secular legal group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A spokesperson for the school board, after consulting an attorney, said the law "is clear" when it comes to public school prayer initiated by staff. 

"Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing cannot be sponsored by schools or school personnel," the school district spokesperson said. 

The mandate came after Cookeville and Upperman high school teams engaged in several post-game prayers.

In a statement to the press, the school district acknowledged "the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members" and said they "support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers."

"That right is and will continue to be protected," the district added. "We also understand that faculty and staff members cannot lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers."

In response, the students and their parents did just that Friday night after Upperman High School's game against Stone Memorial.

Former Putnam County student Bob Vick, a fan of the Upperman football team, shared a photo of the powerful post-game prayer, which has gone viral.

"Satan's power was defeated tonight, as the threat of legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead prayer, supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field," Vick wrote. "God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage."

A father of one of the players, Dustin Whitefield, told WZTV-TV that post-game prayers should have never been an issue because participation "has always been optional for players."

"After the game, players and cheerleaders that choose to will be on the field praying on their own," he said leading up to the game. "A group of parents will be going out on the field to support them. We will join hands and encircle them from a distance as a sign of protection and solidarity in choosing to continue to pray. This is a parent-led event! We are encouraging anyone that would like to show their support to please join us."

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