This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published September 26, 2014 on The Washington Times website.
After Oneida, Tenn., school officials decided not to fight the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) demand that they cease an opening prayer before high school football games, the school’s cheerleaders tackled the matter.
Led by cheerleader Asia Canada, the Oneida Indians’ squad used the moment of silence before the Sept. 12 football game with Watertown to deliver a cheer — for God.
“[The announcer] called for the moment of silence, and I started off, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ and everyone joined in,” Miss Canada, the ringleader of the revolt, told WBIR.
As Asia began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, her teammates joined her, along with Watertown’s cheerleaders. Then, hundreds of people in the stands rose to get in on the prayer. For the record, ACLU attorneys did not demand that local police arrest everyone on the spot. Also for the record, Oneida crushed the Purple Tigers 47-7.
School officials had agreed to stop the 84-year tradition of opening games with a prayer and replace it with a moment of silence after the ACLU threw a flag on their prayer. However, that wasn’t the end of the story in this Bible Belt town 60 miles north of Knoxville.
Kevin Acres, the announcer, distanced himself from the change, explaining that, “first off, I wanted to let everyone know on both sides of the field, this wasn’t our decision or the school board, it was pressure from outside groups.”
The exuberant demonstration of faith that erupted was not exactly spontaneous, said football coach Tony Lambert.
“We went to the cheerleaders and said ‘would you consider leading the Lord’s Prayer during the moment of silence for anyone that would want to join in?’” said Mr. Lambert, a self-professed Christian. “It was at their discretion, and they organized it. We announced the moment of silence, the girls formed a circle and read the Lord’s Prayer and others in the stands followed in. I got a lot of positive feedback from it. I’m very proud of our cheerleaders and fans.”
In an Oct. 3, 2013, letter sent to schools all over Tennessee, ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy M. Weinberg cited the Supreme Court rulings Lee v. Weisman (1992), which bars adult-led school prayer, and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), which bars student-led amplified prayer. In the latter case, dissenting Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that Justice John Paul Stevens’ 6-3 majority opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”
Explaining the ACLU’s aim to silence the prayers, Ms. Weinberg wrote in Orwellian fashion about “protecting religious freedom for all students, including athletes, and for their families who attend the games.” In the ACLU’s world, you preserve the forest by cutting down all the trees.
She noted that, “It is well settled that school faculty, coaches, administrators or invited clergy may not lead students in prayer or conduct a prayer during a school event.”
The school had been allowing public prayer at football games since 1930. Is that “well settled?” America’s Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, attended Christian services in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and presidents have incorporated prayer in public events on government property right up to the current day.
Unable to prohibit presidents of the United States from indulging in this disturbing behavior, the ACLU has been more successful rooting out religious heritage in communities like Oneida (pop. 3,700).
That brings us to the question of how you define success. Before the ACLU’s threat, one man with a microphone would give a prayer at the games. Now, hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, according to Mr. Acres, pray together, led by cheerleaders who won’t knuckle under to a team of ACLU lawyers.
The football fans of Oneida apparently revere God more than they do man. There’s a good chance that many are familiar with the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33:
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”
Oneida High School Principal Kevin Byrd said the ACLU’s legal victory has united the town of Oneida like nothing else. “We are in the heart of the Bible Belt,” Mr. Byrd told The Knoxville News. “Nothing galvanizes us more than our faith. This just reassured us where our school stands. We’re gonna stand true to our beliefs.”
This is reminiscent, on a larger scale, of a famous incident in May 2001, when a commencement speaker at Washington Community High School in Washington, Ill., faked a sneeze so that a number of students could loudly say “God bless you.” The student, Ryan Brown, did it to get around a court order obtained by the ACLU on behalf of the school’s valedictorian, who did not want an invocation or benediction at the event.
As even the liberal fact-checking site Snopes.com put it, “people were angered by the decision, which overturned a tradition of 80 years’ standing.”
So, if you have something even faintly “religious” going on in public in your community, and it goes back 80 years, watch out for an ACLU goon unit.
No word yet on whether the ACLU will be back in Oneida with another threat. After all, the school football team’s name is… the Indians.