A Challenge to Football Prayers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Freedom From Religion Foundation only sends complaint letters to groups violating church/state separation if someone contacts them about it. In other words, they don’t seek out random challenges.

Recently, students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga informed FFRF about public prayers that took place at football games. To their credit, UTC officials said earlier this week they would put a stop to that practice.

On Thursday, I pointed out that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville suffers from the same issue: Football games at the public school are used to endorse Christianity.

And wouldn’t you know it… by Thursday afternoon, FFRF had sent the school a letter telling them that what they are doing is illegal and needs to stop (PDF). (Just to be clear, I can’t take credit for that. Apparently, FFRF has been getting messages about the UTK prayers for weeks — in addition to an isolated complaint back in August — and it just coincidentally worked out that way.)

It’s a T, not a cross

We were contacted in August by an alum regarding prayers before UTK football games. Our complainant informed us that an announcer asks all attendees to stand for the invocation, which is delivered by a clergy member. It is also our information and understanding that the pastors giving the prayers routinely invoked Jesus Christ.

As you are undoubtedly aware, FFRF sent a letter of complaint to the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) regarding prayer at its football games in May of this year. Earlier this week UTC Chancellor Roger Brown announced that UTC would no longer schedule prayers at the start of football games. Instead, in an effort to be more inclusive and allow “all in attendance to reflect and address their individual beliefs in their own ways,” UTC will observe a moment of silence. This change has garnered widespread media attention and this week FFRF has received additional complaints from students at UTK regarding prayers at Neyland Stadium.

The ball’s in UTK’s court (or, I should say, field). This is a simple change and one that should be implemented immediately.

It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? In Knoxville, college football trumps the church when it comes to religion, anyway :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.