Praying silently, in secret or off school property won't cut it for a group of vocal protesters upset over this week's ban of public prayer at Hamilton County high school football games.
They have taken their campaign for public prayer to the Internet, with at least two Facebook groups and a Twitter feed. They're selling T-shirts, taking donations and enlisting the help of national religious liberty organizations.
"I don't want to go around the law, I want to go right through it. I want this completely overturned," said 17-year-old Shelton Brown, a Soddy-Daisy High School senior and creator of the Facebook page "Keep Prayer at Soddy Daisy High School."
Following receipt of a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation over some Soddy-Daisy students' concerns about prayer before football games and graduation ceremonies, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales banned such prayers.
In a letter sent Tuesday to all local principals, he told them the U.S. Supreme Court had found such prayers to be unconstitutional and that they should stopped immediately.
The decision prompted a community outcry.
"The majority of people are just upset that a tradition in their community is being forced to end by the voice of a few," said Hamilton County resident Dillon Burroughs, creator of the Facebook page "Let Soddy Daisy Pray at Football Games."
Brown said he is waiting to hear back from both the Christian Law Association in Seminole, Fla., and the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale, Ariz., about whether they will take on the case.
Attempts to get comments from the organizations on Thursday were unsuccessful.
SANTA FE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT V. DOE
In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
LEE V. WEISMAN
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that a prayer delivered by a rabbi at a graduation ceremony also violated the Establishment Clause.
Source: Cornell University Law School
Soddy-Daisy graduate Emily Robinson said she doesn't understand how something that has been going on for years has just now become a problem.
"As the people who complain have a right to their opinion, the people who want to pray have just as much rights to express their beliefs," said the 18-year-old Chattanooga State Community College student. "If it's a prayer to just watch over [the football players] and keep them safe, I don't think it's a big deal."
Red Bank High School graduate Michael Brown said prayer is part of a longstanding tradition.
"I don't know, we're Southern, you know? Most people put God first," he said.
Scales said that, other than individual phone calls and e-mails, neither he nor the Hamilton County Board of Education has been approached formally to change the policy.
"What we've done is just to actually put in place an initiative that the courts have ruled on for many, many years," he said. "But we'll certainly consult with the legal authorities at our disposal, and we'll do what we can to respond to them."
Shelton Brown said he and other protesters plan to collect donations and pray for change at a meeting Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Veterans Park in Soddy-Daisy.
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Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...