If You Attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville…

Now that the public Christian prayers before home football games have been stopped at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, some locals are worrying that the church/state separationistas will go after the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (a.k.a. The Home That Peyton Manning Built) for doing the same thing:

A prayer takes place before a football game at Neyland Stadium in 2011 (Adam Brimer – News Sentinel)

“We wouldn’t have the capability to go searching for these things, so unless someone local contacts us, we don’t go seeking violations,” said Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt.

Schmitt says right now they have no complaints from anyone in Knoxville.

UT officials in Knoxville did not want to do an interview about this topic, but say there is no discussion currently in stopping public prayers at football games.

Freedom From Religion Foundation officials say unless they have a local person who contacts them then there is no way legally they can pursue a case.

The UTK Secular Student Alliance is considering filing a complaint — I hope they do. All they need to do is get the ball rolling. In Chattanooga, the mere threat of a lawsuit was enough for the school to change their ways since they knew what they were doing was illegal.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    That is a really scary photo.  Who is the guy in the lower right?  Is he the only non-Christian, excluded by this prayer?  And is the guy in uniform just joining in?  Because it could be read as coercion by force.

    • David McNerney

      Visions of Jonestown sprang to mind when I saw that.

    • Tainda

      It’s just a REALLY big game of duck, duck, goose

      • ESC_key

        No no no guys, left foot in THEN left foot out, and if we hold hands like this we’re gonna have a heck of a time turning ourselves about!

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

          Oh thank you, guys… I needed that laugh…

          Anyone got a rag so I can clean off my monitor?

      • Coyotenose

         Red Rover, Red Rover, send Christofascist right over!

        *everyone starts forward at once and then looks at one another awkwardly*

    • http://www.facebook.com/EFTarsier Ethan Lucas Fulwood

      Eh, I think he’s just a staff member watching the sideline for the timing. And uniformed police are always on the field, I think mostly to keep people off of it. I mean, public prayer is exclusionary and all, but it’s not THAT bad.

      I’m actually an officer in UTK’s SSA and we are discussing addressing this next week. I’m thinking it would be most effective to try to have some kind of public discussion on the issue to explain ourselves first?

      • nakedanthropologist

        I think that discussion might go negatively for you, if you are considering filing a complaint.  I’m not a student of UTK, but I am a resident of Knoxville (and a humanist!) and Christianity is very very very big influence here.  Having a public meeting could go to ways, I think: 1) you guys could be setting yourselves up as targets for the more aggressive Christians who think that university endorsed prayer has always been that way, and as such it should stay – they’ll claim that a minority is trying to force its will on the majority (untrue, but you know how it goes); 2) having the public meeting brings the very real and constituional complaint of sectarian prayer into the light, thus preventing that whole “so one person complained…” schtick.  In the case of #2, it might be helpful to chat with other secular and non-christian groups at the university to garner support – that way, you can’t be painted as the “evil atheists who want to take away religious freedom”; instead, you’re asserting that UTK and its fans are manned by a variety of peoples and faiths (or non faiths) and that you would like for the university to be inclusive.  Its a positive and integrative action where all Vols fans are included as opposed to one small group trying to take something away.  Given the cultural climate of east TN, having additional support from other groups can only help your cause; not mention it gives better PR for the issue at hand.

        • Dats3

          I agree, but as residents of Knoxville you and I both know the know that the 2 things you don’t mess with here is Jesus and Vol football.

          • http://www.facebook.com/EFTarsier Ethan Lucas Fulwood

            And I would never dream of messing with the latter.

            • Anonymous Atheist

              But we’re talking about interfering with a mass appeal to Jesus to magically help the team win! ;)

    • Vol Alum

      This photo does not go with the story.  The photo is one of the team, I’m assuming before the stadium even opens.  The issue at hand is one of a stadium packed with over 100,000 people, in the middle of pre-game, with the band on the field, and Bobby Denton, stadium announcer, saying “Please stand for the invocation to be given by the reverend John Doe of the Baptist Student Union of the University of Tennessee.” Everyone stands and some prayer that evokes “God” is given over the loudspeaker to 100,000 people in the stadium.  

  • jdm8

    Praying around an upper case ‘T’? I thought they worshiped the lower case ‘t’.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    For me, that picture just encapsulates everything that is wrong with school prayer. All those people gathered around….a religous icon? No, it’s a symbol of a publicly funded school.  And what are they doing, are they having a private moment of comunication with their invisible friend?  No, the are showing off their piety in front of each other and the crowd.  (I remember that their book has very specific instructions not to do that!)    And the preacher in the middle of it all, pushing his brand of his nonsense on everybody present.   The men (as far as I can see it’s all men) in this circle are feeling very smug and superior at how “godly” and “virtuous” they all are.

    Then the uniformed guard, looking very official and showing how the power of the government is supporting this activity.  And last, the guy outside the circle on the right.  That’s us right there, the minority who are shoved to the periphery, the very people that the First Amendment is supposed to be protecting. 

    I’ve saved this picture as a reminder of what we’re fighting.

    • Tainda

      I see a couple of women.

      You’re exactly right on showing off their piety.  They pray in front of everyone and preach to everyone and then they go bang their secretary behind their wife’s back.  As long as they pray it’s ok, they will be saved.

    • Andrew Pang

      If the football players or coaches or staffers want to do their own pre-game prayer they should lead it amongst themselves. But the university admin can’t.

      • Clark Daniel

        University Administration can’t pray? Since when?

    • Clark

       @Ubi – We Christians pray in public JUST to piss off atheists despite our Bible instructing us not to.

    • Vol Alum

      This photo does not go with the story.  The photo is one of the team, I’m assuming before the stadium even opens.  The issue at hand is one of a stadium packed with over 100,000 people, in the middle of pre-game, with the band on the field, and Bobby Denton, stadium announcer, saying “Please stand for the invocation to be given by the reverend John Doe of the Baptist Student Union of the University of Tennessee.” Everyone stands and some prayer that evokes “God” is given over the loudspeaker to 100,000 people in the stadium.  

  • Matt in Memphis

    This is my hometown and this pisses me right off. Even though I live on the flat, ugly  side of the state now, I have been able to make it back for a number of Vol games at Neyland over the years, and have never actually witnessed this. I really hope the UTK SSA files a complaint. This is our state’s public university and clearly has no business endorsing this crap.  The law is on our side, and even though the FFRF itself doesn’t have standing to sue, any UTK SSA student that has the courage to complain will have standing and will win on the merits.  

    • Dats3

      Knoxville is my hometown and UTK is my alma mater.  Vol football is super big here second only to church so it would be interesting to see someone file a lawsuit.  I bet the world would see christian love on display.  You know, the threats and vitriol.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LCH7RIBX7H5G2QHPGYXJ7SZ7P4 Zed Z

    I find this funny to no end. I am a student at a Catholic University and they don’t do stuff like this. They have a chapel, no church, and the brothers, the sisters, and whoever else go there for mass, etc. and leave the facility and students to their own devices.
    The guy on the outside is messing with his phone or a camera so he probably isn’t too concerned about missing the prayer or what a stadium full of people think of him.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Maybe he’s tweeting about how ridiculous the prayer is.

    • Vol Alum

      Yeah, you know I was thinking back to my time in Catholic School.  Our team prayed, sure.  But, even in catholic school there was not a publicly led prayer over the PA system.  Our team prayer was: “our father help us to play the best we can, to play fast, to play fair, to remain friendly and to play as a team.”  Again, private team prayer at a religious school, not public PA system prayer at a public school.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    You can just see that circle of praying men turn into a hard line of Red Rover… “Bring it on!  We will pray, no matter WHAT you say!!!” 

    The guy in the orange shirt is texting his prayer, obviously.

    • Tainda

      Plz bles my ma & pa kkthx

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYDUEA3OICSP5BCK6KZV5Y5Q6A Sk8eycat

      Maybe he’s texting, “Nothing fails like prayer. Neener-neener-neener!”

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    I have another question… where are the players?  All I see are suits and ties in there (except the left side, can’t make that part out).  So who are these guys praying before the game if the players aren’t in the circle as well?

    • Vol Alum

      This photo does not go with the story.  The photo is one of the team, I’m assuming before the stadium even opens.  The issue at hand is one of a stadium packed with over 100,000 people, in the middle of pre-game, with the band on the field, and Bobby Denton, stadium announcer, saying “Please stand for the invocation to be given by the reverend John Doe of the Baptist Student Union of the University of Tennessee.” Everyone stands and some prayer that evokes “God” is given over the loudspeaker to 100,000 people in the stadium.  

  • fifthoffive

    I live in Knoxville and work at UTK.  I am an atheist.  I only make it to one or two games a year, and don’t think the on-field praying is a regular thing.

    However, they always have an invocation for which everyone is expected to stand, and  it is usually, but not always, “nondenominational.”  That usually means generic Christian, but always invokes God.  People glare at me when I don’t stand, but so far no one’s said anything.

  • Golfie98

    Why are they praying to a pint of beer? (you might need to be in the UK to appreciate that).

    More worrying is, on a day when everyone is rightfully outraged by the murder of people in Libya, some other people cannot see the danger in this sort of separate but better form of performance to build their own version of an intolerant, bigoted and ultimately destructive (usually to others) form of theocracy even if that theocracy is (as yet) not officially sanctioned in law. 

    I sometimes think that some of these people are actually jealous of the power of religion in Islamic regimes and actually wish they had the same power over us – your tea party and our Caleb foundation would seem to want to legislate for gods law not our law.

    Hey Ho the struggle continues. :)

    • skinnercitycyclist

       ”Why are they praying to a pint of beer?”

      If you have ever had Deschutes Brewery Inversion IPA, you would know the answer to that.  The real question is why anyone prays to a 2000-year-old zombie with no bite of hops whatsoever….

  • Alajackd

    In Chattanooga, the mere threat of a lawsuit was enough for the school to change their ways since they knew what they were doing was illegal.”

    What they were doing was not illegal you stupid dipshit. Christians, being Christians, on a University campus is perfectly legal. It’s only to quell sue happy trolls like yourself that Christians even give a shit. Christians will still pray dickwad. Don’t you have a Star Trek convention to attend? Prosper for life trekker.

    • nakedanthropologist

      Wow, that’s a lot of hatred there. Did kkk camp get out early tonight? Christians are free to pray as they please – no one here is disputing that. But for a publicly funded state university to endorse a sectarian christian prayer is illegal – it violates the establishment clause. Lots of people attend UT, not just Christians. So toddle on back to your basement, mmmkay? The adults are talking. BTW, some Christians are wonderful people who respect the constitution as much as we do – like my mother, for example. And thank you for the blessing, fellow trek fan. May you live long and gain IQ points.

      • Clark Daniel

        I’m so FULL of hatred it’s not even funny. Following my KKK cross burning function last night, I kicked puppies and kittens just for fun. Then I went back to my mother’s basement where I passed out in a drunken stupor… CrAzY night.

        Fact: Employees, Players, Fans, Students, and Faculty of the University of Tennessee can pray as much as they wish, wherever they wish. Deal with it. It is a right granted and protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

        • nakedanthropologist

          No frickin’ kidding.  Here’s another fact: private speech is different than government speech.  Of course people can pray wherever and whenever they want – no one is taking issue with that.  What people do take issue with is government-sponsored sectarian prayer.  That is against the first amendment.  Chill out.  Also, if you’re passing out in your mother’s basement, you might want to check out AA – there are several meeting places around UTK that would prove to be helpful and welcoming.  One last thing: if you don’t want to be accused of being a bigot, stop writing like one.  We’re not all Christian, and several large Christian denominations have rules and taboos against public prayer (hint: this is also in the bible).  SO CHILL THE FUCK OUT.

          • Clark Daniel

            The only bigot here is you, who discriminate against Christians. You’re the reason we pray in public you scared little puke. We  do it JUST to piss you off.