Tennessee high school football player Elijah Burgess knew he had to lead his team in prayer on the field after the game on Friday night. It didn’t matter that his school, Upperman High School, just banned teachers and coaches from initiating prayer with students.
“They told us to not pray, so I had to do that,” Burgess explains to Fox News. “That’s like one of the things that I’ve got to do if someone tells me not to do.”
Faculty members were told they could not lead students in prayer after the school district received complaints from Americans United for Separation of Church and State about the district’s use of prayer at school events.
The school issued a statement saying, “as a district, we absolutely understand the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members.”
“We support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers,” the statement continued. “That right is and will continue to be protected. We also understand that faculty and staff members can not lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers.”
Upperman High football player mom Christa Mullins was not happy with the school’s decision. She then came up with the idea of parents, fans, and players gathering on the field to pray after the game. She talked to other parents who agreed to join the prayer.
“There were some concerns about possibly being kicked off the team if [the football players] continue to pray—or even kicked out of school, if they continue to pray,” Mullins shares. “And so I just wanted to reassure the team and cheerleaders that we as parents and community are here for them.”
“I’m a single mom, and my son looks up to his coaches not only as coaches, but mentors and even friends,” she continues. “I think it’s important for the youth to be able to go up to a teacher or coach—these are lifelong relationships—and ask, ‘hey, can you pray with me?’ So to be told that they can’t do that is where I’m frustrated.”
In other parts of the country, prayer in schools is being handled differently. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem recently shared in an interview that she plans to put prayer back into schools.
“We in South Dakota have decided to take action to really stand for Biblical principles,” Governor Noem says. “I have legislation I’ll be proposing this year that will allow us to pray in schools again.”
A California school district is also making an effort to accommodate religious students’ beliefs, but seemingly just for Islamic students. In Elk Grove Unified School District, on Muslim holidays, prayer rooms will be set aside and culturally acceptable meals will be offered as more Afghan refugees are set to attend in the near future. It is unclear if the Muslim students will be allowed to skip class for their Islamic prayer times.
While Elk Grove Unified School District or even Governor Noem may have specific ideas for what prayer should look like in school, how do they plan to accommodate students who want the same treatment for their differing religious beliefs?
Florida’s new school policy may be the answer. This past summer, a new law came into effect for the coming school year that requires Florida public schools to have a 1-2 minute moment of silence each day.
Critics have argued that the moment of silence is an attempt to bring prayer back into schools. Yet, teachers are not allowed to determine how students utilize the moment of silence.
“It is a time of quiet,” explains State Representative Randy Fine, the sponsor of the bill. “You can use the time to figure out what homework you have that day. You can use the time to pray if you want, but you have to do it quietly, and the school can’t tell you how to use the time.”
Could this be a solution to a problem, or simply creating a new one?
What are your thoughts on prayer in schools? Should prayer be allowed, as long as it reflects the views of the community? Or should prayer be avoided to accommodate every student’s unique beliefs? Do you think Florida’s moment of silence is a solution to the problem?