Last week, it was confirmed that school employees are not allowed to lead their students in prayer. This includes teachers and staff who work at Putnam County’s two high schools; Upperman High School and Cookeville High School. Also, coaches for athletic teams are not allowed to take part in the prayers. A non-profit group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint against several instances where they say people were proselytizing or trying to convert others during events held by these same districts schools. They claim that many cases involve prayers and proselytizing in schools. The law about this issue is set out by courts, which have consistently ruled against such practices at public institutions like town committees or school boards. According to the organization, such events can have students of both religious minorities as well non-believers present. Therefore, they don’t want prayers to be held in such circumstances as they can offend those that don’t believe in the doctrines.
In response to the claims, PCS Superintendent Arnold Reed said that they understand the importance of prayer as a district in students’ lives. Prayer is protected under freedom-of-speech and religion clauses as well as Tennessee state law which protects students’ rights for peaceful assembly. During an October 15th phone call, the PCS addressed parents about these recent incidents on campus where Upperman High School seniors were caught praying with leaders from other schools at Cookeville events like football games or prom parties the previous year. He continues to explain that they support participating in prayers so long it’s not disruptive. Before, there have been problems when people led prayers without permission. However, in his interview, he irons out the controversies that may have been caused among those against such behavior because they feel not included in such occasions.
Dustin Whitefield was one of those parents who decided to support Upperman’s football game against Stone Memorial High School on Friday. He says that he and other parents were doing this because it has always been an option for them, not something mandatory or forced, as some people may believe. “We do realize this is a public school,” wrote Dustin in his email statement, “but prayer has never really come into question before. The game was close, but Upperman won in the end. The players and cheerleaders came out victorious on their own after a 27-9 victory Friday night. However, it wasn’t only the players who were involved in the celebrations. They were joined by parents who showed solidarity by joining hands as they went onto midfield for prayer circle! The postgame celebrations drew headlines once again because there were many more people showing support from afar: parents coming together during an act that has been seen only since 9/11 when some American Muslims began holding such gatherings at NFL games across America. A photo of the prayer and players’ solidarity was shared on Facebook by resident Bob Vick. He wrote that this victory is a sign from God to continue fighting against Satan’s power in society, which he felt had been defeated tonight due to student-led prayers significantly supported by parents at Upperman Memorial High School. After satanic threats were overwhelmed, players were encouraged spiritually to express themselves. They don’t fear being attacked during prayers since they know the institution got their back.