Cooper: Threatening community prayer

Cooper: Threatening community prayer

August 7th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

A minister prays at the opening of a 2016 panel discussion for parents of Ooltewah High School students who had come to learn about the signs of and solutions to bullying at Ooltewah United Methodist Church.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

When parents send their children to school these days, they not surprisingly feel a little helpless. When they let their teenagers borrow the car, they worry about what might happen between leaving the driveway and returning to it.

Columbine, drunk drivers, Sandy Hook, opioids, Woodmore, sexual assaults, Orlando. What can they do to give themselves a sense of calm over what they can't control?

In Fyffe, Alabama, 66 miles from Chattanooga on Sand Mountain, community members for several years have organized a back-to-school worship service in the Fyffe High School gymnasium.

It is an event, organizers said, in which participants can be "praying for God's protective hand" over their children.

It's exactly the kind of activity that promotes the family and the sense of community that have been too often hollowed out by a culture that elevates the individual over the larger good.

Attendance at the service clearly is not required of parents or students. But many understandably want to come. Praying for their students, their children's friends, their teachers and coaches, and praying that nothing horrific or tragic will befall them during the upcoming school year, is something parents can do. It is a way of linking hearts and minds with others who feel a similar helplessness.

At Sunday's event, pastors and other faith leaders also prayed for those involved in the weekend mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The atrocities were just the kind of acts over which parents feel helpless, even in Fyffe, with an estimated 2017 population of 1,018.

Hanging over this year's service, though, was the pall of a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which suggested "DeKalb County Schools must make certain that its teachers and administrators are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters."

The organization said a "concerned DeKalb County Schools parent" had said the event was being organized and promoted by school faculty members and was promoted on the school's official Facebook page.

The post, now removed, said: "Please join us in praying for God's protective hand to be over our schools, facilities, and students."

But DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Jason Barnett said the school and faculty were not behind it, that community members had planned it. It also had been approved by the school board just as the body approves other such non-school events held at the school.

"To my knowledge," he told Fox News, "no administrators or faculty members were involved in the organization and planning of the event. I want to add that the board did not promote this event, but rather permitted an announcement of the event on the school Facebook page just as it permits others to provide information about community events. The 'us' in the Facebook announcement refers to the organizers of the event, not the school or the school board.

"I do not believe we broke the law in having this event on the Fyffe High School campus," Barnett said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, without the facts, called the service a clear violation of church and state and promised an investigation.

The service, according to a report from Huntsville's WAAY, began with singing and concluded with the 350 people in attendance — more than a third of the town — holding hands and praying for the safety of the children and the schools.

The crowd, according to participants, was larger than usual because of the controversy, and perhaps because of the mass shootings in the 24 hours or so before the service.

"Anytime you have kids and they're not with you and they're in the school system," Jon Mayes, a pastor who spoke at the service and a parent, told the television station, "you worry about them. Are they safe?

"Its a scary world," he said. "That's why we are praying for God's protection over our schools."

We couldn't imagine the torment and anguish over losing a child to a school shooting, to a mass shooting at Walmart or to a drunk driver, and we couldn't imagine being told we couldn't gather with other like-minded individuals to pray for our children's safety at a community event.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims it simply wants to protect "the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church," but too often its interference feels like a bull in a china shop, its intent simply to charge in without the facts and without thought to the feelings of those involved and crush the practice of religion altogether.

When it's time for school to begin in 2020, we imagine Fyffe residents again will be gathering in the high school gym to pray for students, teachers and leaders. And perhaps when they think of their ordeal of the year before they'll think of the verse from Genesis, "You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he's doing today."

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315