University of Tennessee: We’re Keeping Our Pre-Game Prayers

About a week ago, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga said they would stop their practice of public Christian prayers before home football games.

But what about UTC’s sibling school, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville? That’s the school with the major football program, the school where Peyton Manning played, the school where the exact same type of prayer was taking place. Would they stop, too?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent them a letter of complaint late last week, focusing on the problem with asking the crowd to stand for a clergy-led prayer that “routinely invoke[s] Jesus Christ.”

Tonight, we get the first response from the university: They’re keeping the prayer:

UT says it doesn’t believe it’s time-honored ritual of praying before each football home game violates the constitution.

Tuesday, UT said it is drafting a full response to the foundation, but officials said they believe their tradition follows court guidelines.

This isn’t a battle the school will win. History isn’t on their side. They’ll kick and scream about this. They’ll whine about it. Their strategies will eventually backfire. And the other side will ultimately come out on top.

So it’s a lot like UT’s football team. (Zing!)

But if this is a fight UT wants, they’ll get it. It’ll pit those of us who support church/state separation against a community built around college football and church. It’s a distraction that doesn’t need to happen since all the people attending the games have every right to pray before the games… but judging from the comments on several news websites, you’d never know that.

Though there is a poll on the Knoxville News Sentinel‘s website you may want to crash:

(As I write this, “No” is at 88%… I’m sure a few “Yes” votes would change that quickly.)

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.

  • A3Kr0n

    Only 52 voted “yes”? This needs pharyngulating!

  • Cincinatheist

    Why did I click over the link and read any of the comments? Jesus H Zeus, now my head aches.

  • Cincinatheist

    That’s what I was gonna say. I love Hemant and all, but he just simply doesn’t have the poll-crashing kung fu skillz that PZ’s horde does.  ;-)

  • MargueriteF

    I read that, too. It almost made me want to cry for all the poor persecuted Christians *wipes tear from eye*.

    Seriously, reading comments on a news article is almost always a mistake. I should know better.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The one comment about how “christians have rights too” is just hilarious. Yeah, buddy. You have the exact same rights we do, and those rights don’t include forcing your religion on everyone else. 

  • Amanda Cales

    Yup, and as someone who lives in Knoxville, guess who I get to talk to every time I leave the house! -.-

  • dearestlouise

    I knew UTK wouldn’t comply easily. Knoxville is very serious about Christianity and very serious about football. Expect a lot of community push back and harassment, as well. Personally, I’ve always disliked the school and hated the area.

  • David Benjamin Patton

    UT has too many corporate sponsors and christian fans they have to appease so they’re not likely to ruffle feathers by cancelling prayers.

  • treedweller

    so I notice in the quote included above there is a misuse of “it’s”. Is this a mistake Hemant made, or did it come from the University like that? I have been burned by auto-correct on this one, so I will cut Hemant some slack. If it is actually written that way in the University’s statement, I will definitely count it as evidence that christianity is bad for the brain. I mean, it’s a university, for chrissakes! Its official statements should get a little proofreading, no?

  • Dats3

    I said this a few days ago, here in knoxville there are two things you don’t mess with: Jesus and Vol football.  I hope somebody challenges this. It may be a fight they can’t win but don’t think they won’t fight it.  On the lighter side, I am so pleased that Gators kicked their asses.  Again!

  • Dats3

    Your not alone. 

  • Deespoiled

    They lost last week and had 2 players suffer a season ending injury. I guess God hates them.

  • Dats3

    I meant “you’re” not alone. 

  • treedweller

     clicking through, I see it’s a quote from a local “news” station. So, not that surprising, given the current state of journalism. I hope they were the ones who made the mistake–certainly, they do not present it as a quote from the University.

  • Annie

     How many times must people pray, only to see it does not give them the results they desire?  Even my dog realizes after several attempts that no matter how fast he runs, he just isn’t going to catch the squirrel at the back of the lot.

  • AlphaAndOmegaNot

    Maybe there is a Devil after all..and a God…while atheists are not looking. Maybe online atheists are friendly only in another universe. In the universe in which I am currently looking at, atheists online are a obnoxious lot. Thank +++ that in the real world, there are truly friendly atheists.

  • Long Arc of Justice

    Knoxville, prepare to be taught a lesson.

  • Lorimakesquilts

    Yeah, the stupid is just amazing.  They really, really don’t understand even the basics about civil rights and the Constitution.  I think maybe they should have gone to a different college.

    My favorite argument is that the state doesn’t pay for athletics, it’s all privately funded through donations.  So why does this “private” football team have the university’s name all over it?  Followed closely by the brilliant comeback, “so where are your seats?”

    Bleah, headache and heartburn now, should have stopped reading much sooner.


  • James Lindsay

    As predicted… the thing is, people might literally try to go to war over this, looking at how things usually go down here (plus my facebook newsfeed). This is going to make for the first UT football season I’ve liked since… ever.

  • Martin

    You gotta give them some credit though, with how bad their team is, maybe they feel prayer is their only option to have a chance at winning a game.

  • Jennifer

    10:40pm EDT and it seems the pole is crashed……

  • nakedanthropologist

    Maybe there are trolls…

  • Anonymous Atheist

    I got an error about ‘capacity overload’ at 11:15pm ET trying to load the article page. I refreshed the page a couple times, and it loaded successfully. Then when I submitted the poll, I got the error again. I refreshed that a few times (say yes to retry submitting data) and then the confirmation and results loaded successfully.

    Current results:

    Poll: Should the University of Tennessee stop its pre-game prayer ritual?
    No – 51% – 601 votes
    Yes – 42% – 487 votes
    Moment of silence instead – 5% – 68 votes
    Not sure – 0% – 1 vote
    total votes – 1157

  • qp3

    I don’t get it… You only need to read 6! yes 6!!! pages into the new testament and you have Jesus saying that you should not pray in public. 


  • Efrique

    I think you killed their servers. Or maybe this getting posted on reddit did that:

    Service Temporarily Unavailable

    The server is temporarily unable to service your
    request due to maintenance downtime or capacity
    problems. Please try again later.


  • Anonymous Atheist

    See my comment below – I was getting that error too, but with persistence you may be able to get through anyway.

  • phantomreader42

    In other words, the school is saying “our fans are all too fucking stupid to be able to figure out how to pray without being ordered to by a government official.” 

    Do these morons not even notice what idiots they make their fellow cultists look like?  

  • PietPuk

    Yep, worked for me.
    No - 50% 642
    Yes – 43% 564
    Change - 5% 75
    Not sure-0% 1

  • Isilzha

    In the universe in which I am currently looking in the new article comment, xians are idiots and most have an agenda to set up the US as a theocracy.

  • TheG

    I never should have read the comments on the Sentinel poll.  There are tons of alum that are saying they won’t donate anymore if the University gives in.  I’ll keep that in mind the next time I hear a Christian complain about religious oppression when someone refuses to go to Chick Fil A.

  • Baal

    And now imagine them all in neat rows on hands and knees with their foreheads on the ground (and the women in another room or not in the building).  Would the Muslim version of the small thing be ok?

  • BatDaddy

    This came up on one of the local sports talk shows this morning here in Nashville, and oh how I wish I hadn’t been running late for work. The amount of ignorance coming out of the mouths of one of the hosts and of course the callers was ridiculous. There was a chorus of “this is America! if you don’t like it get out! In God We Trust is on the money! this is a Christian nation! not having a prayer [for the atheists] is just another version of having a prayer!

    Seriously, read that last one again. That’s a paraphrase, but that’s what was said. No prayer = prayer of a different type. WHAT?

    I shouldn’t be so surprised, as much as I love certain sports, they are overflowing with ritual, religion, superstition and general nonsense.

  • Blacksheep

    I’m confused why the FFRF got involved in the first palce – did someone who attends the games complain about it? The article only states that the FFRF sent them a letter. 

  • Fringeit5

    “Comply?” Hmm, interesting word choice. Just a little scary.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    FFRF only sends letters like that when they receive a complaint from a local person. The local person often wants to avoid being identified, for obvious reasons.

  • dearestlouise

    The FFRF only acts when they receive complaints and they received several complaints.

  • dearestlouise

    I’m not sure what makes it “interesting” or why it’s “scary” for you, but it’s an appropriate word choice in that it means to act in accordance with a request. 

  • coyotenose

    Desperate much, wittle Angrums?

  • coyotenose

     Your conspiracy theorist slip is showing.

  • Blacksheep

    Got it. Thanks.

  • Fringeit5

    Really? Would you choose that word if you were speaking to someone in a respectful way? Would you ask a friend to “comply” with your request? probably not. It’s a word choice reserved to describe situations when someone is being forced to do something, as in, “The prisoner complied.” or “Ypu must comply.” (Which, no doubt, is the intended use in this case).

  • Hemant Mehta

    Yes, someone from UTK sent them a letter regarding the prayers. Otherwise, FFRF would not have acted.

  • dearestlouise

    The word “comply” is used very commonly when referring to complying with the law and other legal requests. You seem to be very paranoid about a simple word, but thanks for explaining to me what my intent was and the word choice analysis. 

  • Blacksheep

    Thanks Hemant.

  • TheBlackCat

     Yes, that’s right.  They are breaking the law, and if they don’t stop the courts are going to make them comply with the law, even if they don’t want to. 

  • Vol Alum

    They also forget that EVERY student pays a programs and services fee, which partially goes to the athletic dept.  That argument goes back to they can’t ask about religious affiliation in an application.  So, no, just because the athletic budget is separate does not mean that they are a private organization.

  • Bobby

    Yeah, atheist assholes really showed us, huh?