Jesus sign on city property, “In God We Trust” on patrol cars, Ten Commandments on high-school property, atheists barred from Boy Scouts, Tennessee freethought proclamation proposed. After talking about fish, large and small--Melville’s Moby Dick and Rupert Brooke’s Heaven--we interview Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers about his recent victory overturning capital punishment in that state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to put reason on an equal footing with religious faith, if only for a day, due to a new state law that requires the governor to designate the first weekend in August of each calendar year as "Tennessee's Weekend of Prayer Over Students."
Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker of FFRF, a national state-church watchdog with about 22,500 members nationwide and nearly 300 in Tennessee, sent a letter July 28 to Haslam, who signed the bill in April. FFRF promotes the constitutional principle of separation of state and church and educates the public on matters relating to nontheism.
The letter notes that not all Tennesseans believe in the power of prayer, and many object to mingling church and state in public schools.
"As a result, we are requesting on behalf of FFRF's members in Tennessee that you also issue a proclamation proclaiming a 'Day Of Reason' along the lines of the proposed proclamation included with this letter. Prescribing a dedicated Day of Reason is very timely in light of the 90th anniversary of the verdict on the infamous Scopes trial. We recognize, however, that you might also choose to declare a 'Week Of Reason,' or an alternative date near the beginning of the new school year. We look forward to working with you to finalize the details for an appropriate proclamation and dedication as requested."
FFRF's proposed proclamation:
WHEREAS, Tennessee students face many influences pulling them toward divisiveness, intolerance, and ignorance; and
WHEREAS, reason and free inquiry are the most effective agents against error; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee students should be intellectually challenged and enhanced by public schools that educate without dogma, coercion, or suspension of critical judgment; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee students should learn in their public schools to base opinions on reason and informed knowledge; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee students should be taught that they are responsible for their own actions and that they should judge human conduct by its intent and consequences; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee public schools should advance and impart knowledge, compassion, and rational understanding; and
WHEREAS, this summer marks the 90th anniversary of the verdict in the infamous Scopes trial, reminding us again to remain ever vigilant about the instruction of our youth:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Bill Haslam, Governor of the State of Tennessee, do hereby proclaim and dedicate August 15, 2015, as the first annual "DAY OF REASON," to honor and encourage Tennessee's public schools as inviolate institutions of reason and human understanding, during the 2015-2016 school year and always.
I encourage all citizens to join me in honoring the worthy and critical undertakings of our public schools.
The weekend of prayer bill passed the state Senate 33-0 and the state House approved it 95-2. G.A. Hardaway and Johnnie Turner, both Memphis Democrats, were the only two to vote against it.
Behind the bill was a theocratic group called First Priority, which boasts a mission of "Uniting the Local Body of Christ With a Plan of Action to Influence the School with the Gospel." It trumpets "Christ-Church-Campus" and "The Hope of Christ in Every Student."
Trey Reynolds, Wilson County director of First Priority of Greater Nashville, told the Lebanon Democrat: "We are asking local churches all across Middle Tennessee to adopt a school to serve as the point person for prayer on that school campus. This will be a multi-church, multi-denominational time of prayer at each of the more than 200-plus schools. We would like to know which schools your church would be willing to adopt and serve as the liaison in your community."
According to a story in the Kingsport Times-News, a Christian group called Expecting God's Help is teaming with First Priority in Hawkins County. "The countywide event will be held Sunday, Aug. 2, from 2-4 p.m. on the campus of every public school in Hawkins County, including the independent Rogersville City School."
Haley Wherry, director of First Priority Blue Ridge, said, "Without prayer, these students will not be able to stand against the insurmountable odds they will face from childhood until they leave this world."
Four Hawkins County schools have a First Priority group in the school: Rogersville Middle School, Cherokee High School, Surgoinsville Middle School and Volunteer High School. Wherry is available "to assist local churches to empower their students as missionaries in the other middle and high schools of Hawkins County."
The "Prayer Walk Guide" includes a dozen items, including "10. Plead – the Blood of Jesus over the Schools, Homes and Students; 11. Bind – the powers of darkness in the Name of Jesus; 12. Loosen – the Power of God in our schools, our communities, our nation."
"It is a shocking misuse of governmental authority to pass a law, at a behest of a group intent on missionizing public school students, to designate a weekend to 'pray over students.' Public schools exist to educate, not proselytize. We will await the governor's response to our reasonable request with great interest," said FFRF's Gaylor.