By Tammy Moore Teague
You would never have known by looking at the football field on the evening of Wednesday, June 27, that it was a church night. Those who normally congregated at Abbott Baptist, Mansfield Assembly, James Fork Baptist, Huntington Assembly, Westside Pentecostal, Fellowship Baptist, and others were united and encircling the high school’s football field.
They had gathered there for a purpose, and that purpose was to pray. Our school had recently received a letter from the group Freedom From Religion, a Michigan based group of atheists, agnostic and “free thinkers.” That letter called for the school to cease any faculty, staff or administrator led prayer at graduations or any other school activities. In response, the community united together to take a stand for their First Amendment rights.
The heat certainly didn’t detour the several hundreds in attendance. Also present were local law enforcement. The prayer meeting was not only peacefully, it was joyful. You could hear the laughter and clamor of neighbors greeting neighbors. Brothers and sisters in Christ who had a common thread, their faith. One local pastor stepped out of his car with great authority. He was standing for his right to pray, and he was standing on the very Word he had tucked underneath his arm.
Christians stood hand in hand as they began to lift their voices in prayer. Prayers for safety, strength and courage to stand for what is right all rising in unity, heavenward.
Mansfield Schools have not been alone in this push by FFR. Other schools in our area, including Waldron have also been targeted. More alarming, community members who have came out in support of prayer in schools have been subjected to personal attacks, some quite alarming. However, they insist fear will not keep them from fighting for their right to pray.
FFR states they have no issue with students praying on their own, but that is violates constitutional rights to have school staff lead students in prayer. It was not the case, however, with recent attacks on Waldron’s Konnor McKay. McKay is a pastor and alumnus of the school. The head coach invited him to come present an inspirational speech to players. Since that time McKay has came under intense fire. An attorney for FFR claims the school violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That clause states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause prohibits the federal government from establishing an official religion or from favoring one religion over another. McKay’s attorney contends however, that he did not convert nor attempt to convert any of the players by giving the motivational talk.
This meddlesome out of state group have people asking why us? Also, what are our rights as students, parents, teachers and coaches? The advocate group Alliance Defending Freedom shared the following protected freedoms:
Teachers and Coaches Can:
Engage in religious activities outside of non-instructional time.
For example, teachers can:
Form after school Bible Study groups.
Participate in prayer groups with other adults.
Distribute literature to other adults for non-curricular activities on the same terms as all other events and activities.
Choose the school environment that best fits your child’s needs, whether public school, charter school, private school, or homeschool.
Depending upon where you live, opt your child out of curriculum that would force them to violate your family’s religious beliefs.
Depending upon where you live, review the curriculum and teaching materials for any of your child’s classes.
Opt your child out of any extracurricular activity.
Depending upon where you live, be notified if your child is enrolled in a course that includes sex ed, family planning, homosexual themes, diversity issues, or extreme violence.
Access your child’s record, including grades, disciplinary, and counseling proceedings.
Remove your child on days of religious observance.
Depending upon where you live, receive the same tax credits and vouchers to attend religious schools available to attend non-religious schools.
Students have the right to freely live out their faith at school.
Many schools have told students that they cannot pray around the flagpole before school or say a blessing over their food in the cafeteria. But the First Amendment protects all forms of religious expression, including prayer at school. Pray on their own or in groups during non-instructional time at school as long as it does not significantly disrupt the activity of the school.
Engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer before or after practices, sporting events, or other school functions as long as such prayers are voluntary and not required by coaches or other school officials.
Stop students from praying individually or in groups without evidence that the prayers would significantly disrupt the school environment (for example, making a student late for class).
Require students to participate in prayer or any other religious activity.
For more information about this faith freedom non profit group, go to Alliance Defending Freedom.