FFRF urges end to UT-Knoxville football prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint Sept. 13 to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville about prayers over the loudspeaker at Neyland Stadium before Volunteers football games.

An alumnus wrote FFRF in August that an announcer asks fans to stand for the invocation, which is delivered by a clergy member.

“It is also our information and understanding that the pastors giving the prayers routinely invoke Jesus Christ,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“As you are undoubtedly aware, FFRF sent a letter of complaint to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga regarding prayer at its football games in May of this year,” Gaylor wrote. “Last week, UTC Chancellor Roger Brown announced that UTC would no longer schedule prayers at the start of football games. Instead, in an effort to be more inclusive and allow ‘all in attendance to reflect and address their individual beliefs in their own ways,’ UTC will observe a moment of silence.”

That news garnered widespread media attention and spurred similar complaints about football prayer at Neyland Stadium.

“We urge you to follow UTC’s lead and drop prayer from UTK football games and all other UTK-sponsored events,” Gaylor said. “First and foremost, prayers at public university events that are sectarian in nature violate the Establishment Clause. Sectarian prayers at public universities have been struck down as unconstitutional in the Sixth Circuit, which is binding in Tennessee.

“While students, athletes, and athletic event attendees may choose to gather privately in prayer, a public university has no place in encouraging or endorsing religious ritual.”

UT-Knoxville must take action to stop any further involvement, endorsement, encouragement or scheduling of prayers at university functions and sporting events, Gaylor said.

FFRF, which advocates for state-church separation, has about 18,500 members nationwide and 285 in Tennessee.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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