UTC football game prayers challenged

photo Roger Brown of UTC

Officials at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are considering how to respond to a request that they stop Christian prayers before football games.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter dated May 15 asking Chancellor Roger Brown about what group Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor described as "unlawful university sponsorship of Christian prayer."

"We have received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation asking us to reconsider public prayers before UTC events," Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell said in a statement this week. "The university is looking at the request."

The foundation sent a separate letter in May to Hamilton County commissioners, asking them to stop holding Christian prayers.

Commissioners continued to hold their prayers and two residents filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop them in June. A major order on a motion for preliminary injunction in that case is expected soon.

Gaylor's letter said a UTC football game attendee reported that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes delivered invocations at football games from the 2010 season until now.

"It is our information and understanding that these prayers conclude with a reference to praying in the name of Jesus Christ," she wrote.

The foundation argues that such prayers are sectarian.

"Sectarian prayers at public universities have been struck down as unconstitutional in the Sixth Circuit, which is binding in Tennessee," Gaylor wrote.

The letter quoted other legal precedent and eventually the Bible.

"Those who are not impressed by constitutional dictates might perhaps open their Bibles and peruse the Sermon on the Mount, which attributes to Jesus these cautionary words (Matthew 6:5-6)," she wrote, quoting the verses.

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."