As a result of a recent complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it appears sectarian prayer by Christian clergy over the loudspeaker at University of Tennessee-Knoxville football games will be dropped.
FFRF complained Sept. 13 to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek about the practice, in which an announcer asks all attendees to rise for the invocation, delivered by a Christian member of the clergy who invariably invokes Jesus Christ.
A letter from Cheek was faxed to FFRF mid-afternoon today, which indicated the University would conform its practice toChaudhuri v. State of Tennessee, a decision FFRF brought to the school’s attention, in which the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that nonsectarian prayer or a moment of silence at public universities is permissible.
“While we are pleased that UTK is moving in the right direction, the wisest policy is to drop prayer entirely,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students, alums and fans come to the games to watch players, not to recite prayers! Prayer hosted by a public university is unnecessary, embarrassing and divisive. It’s just plain bad manners to knowingly inflict prayer on those of us who are not religious and believe nothing fails like prayer.”
Religious ritual hosted and endorsed by a public university excludes the one in four young persons who is nonreligious, according to PEW, and more than 430,000 Tennessee adults who identify as nonreligious, ( American Religious Identification Survey 2008).
Gaylor said to ensure nonsectarianism UTK must cease inviting clergy, who are inextricably identified with their denomination, to lead prayer. Gaylor said as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she stopped graduation prayer there by pointing out it excludes many students, including foreign students, and unites church with a state-funded institution.
“I have no faith in prayer, but I do have faith in the power of secular students to mobilize and educate.”
FFRF, which is based in Madison, Wis., has more than 18,500 members, including 285 in Tennessee. FFRF has halted illegal prayer at many public schools in Tennessee, at high school graduations, sporting events and even in kindergarten. “We believe the same Establishment Clause precedent which protects public school students at lower levels from school-sponsored prayer should be applied to public university students,” she said.