ONEIDA, Tenn. – A group of Oneida High School cheerleaders defied a prayer ban before a football game, using a moment of silence to lead the crowd in the Lord’s prayer.
The move comes in the wake of “outside pressure” from the ALCU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation to halt the school’s long-standing practice of prayer over the loud-speaker before football games.
The school “decided to do away with prayer before athletic events in an effort to avoid national legal action,” as reported at a local ABC affiliate, WATE, who quoted junior Kayla King as saying, “We need prayer for so many reasons especially in our community now and the troubles we face every day.” In lieu of prayer, the school opted for a moment of silence. The ban was put in place “in the midst of the 2013-2014 basketball season.”
The school’s announcer Kevin Acres explained the reason for the prayer ban, noting that he had been “asked many times over the past few weeks why we no longer have an opening prayer” which has taken place at the school for “every football game…since we started playing football at Oneida in 1930.” He said:
“In an effort to protect the resources of our high school institution from any legal actions that these groups may take, we will from this point forward observe a moment of silence prior to the start of sporting events.”
But the move “didn’t sit well” with many in the community, like head football coach Tony Lambert, who was quoted by WBIR as saying, “I heard the moment of silence, but it was kind of a sick feeling in my stomach.”
King explained that they defied the ban by joining hands and leading the crowd in prayer. She said, “…all the cheerleaders came together and recited the Lord’s Prayer” during the moment of silence. “In that moment the atmosphere was kind of great,” she added, “because it was nothing but heads bowed, and you heard the Lord’s Prayer ring over the football field.”
As reported at the Oneida Independent Herald, the “cheerleading squad from visiting Watertown High School” joined the Oneida High School cheerleaders.
Last Fall, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent letters to “every school district in Tennessee” warning that it is “illegal” for public schools to “organize, sponsor, or lead prayers” during athletic events.”
The ACLU said contradictorily, “As you know, the First Amendment prohibits government policies and practices ‘respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'” The letter condescendingly continues:
“Like you, we do not want to see taxpayers, students and parents in your school district ostracized and excluded if they do not wish to participate in unconstitutional, state-endorsed prayer at athletic events.”
The cheerleaders received national attention on Friday, as they were featured at Fox & Friends. “It was an unforgettable moment, just hearing everybody reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It was amazing,” co-captain Asia Canada told Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Last year, a report at Tavern Keepers compiled instances across America where students defied prayer bans, such as in the case of Roy Costner IV of Liberty High School in South Carolina, who ripped up his “pre-approved” speech at a graduation ceremony, and “with tears in his eyes,” recited the Lord’s prayer, which was partially drowned out by “wild applause.” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation responded angrily, saying that Costner “insensitively inflicted Christian prayer on a captive audience.”