UT will not stop prayer at football games & other events

7:26 AM, Sep 20, 2012   |    comments
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The University of Tennessee is standing by its stance that its time honored ritual of praying before each football home game does not violate the constitution.

Last week, a national organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the university, asking leaders to stop the prayers.   The foundation argued that public prayer before a game doesn't belong at a public institution, and it violates the constitution.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Request (pdf)

On Wednesday, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek responded to the group with a letter, stating that it will stand by the tradition of prayer before UT events.

UT Response to Freedom From Religion Foundation (pdf)

Past Precedent: Chaudhuri vs. State of Tennessee

Father Charlie Donahue of Blessed John XXIII University Parish said it is the policy of UT's Campus Minsters' Council to be inclusive during the pre-game tradition.

Donahue, who has given the pre-game invocation 3 times, said religious speakers are not allowed to name specific names like Jesus or Allah.

He also said no one is forced to pray during the ritual.

"All those who wish to participate in it do, those who don't don't," he said.

However, Rob Kaminsky, President of UT's Secular Student Alliance, said he still thinks the practice is exclusive.  He said he would like UT to follow in the footsteps of UT-Chattanooga, which recently decided to stop prayer before football games.

Previous Story: UTC switches to moment of silence 

"We [SSA] mostly promote a moment of silence before the football game so those who want to pray can pray and those that don't can meditate or do whatever ideology fits them," he said.

This is not the first time prayer and football have mixed to create controversy in the region.

In 2000, Roane County High School stopped reciting prayer over loudspeakers before football games thanks to a Supreme Court decision.

Bell County High School also stopped the practice last year after a request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

But, according to Knoxville attorney John Duffy, the issue pertaining to college games is a bit different.

"The audience at a UT football game is going to be comprised largely of adults," he said. "So they're not going to be as impressionable as even high school students for example."

He said UT could find itself in trouble if it were shown to be violating the Constitution's establishment clause which says the government cannot establish a religion or inhibit the free exercise of one.

However, Duffy said he doubts most fans feel that is happening.

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