University of Tennessee to Freedom From Religion Foundation: Continue to Pray, We Shall UPDATED


My local news outlet has the skinny, hot off the wire.

The University of Tennessee is standing by its stance that its time honored ritual of praying before each football home game does not violates 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.

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.

“This letter is in response to your letter dated September 13, 2012 concerning prayer at University of Tennessee, Knoxville events, including football games.  After conferring with the University’s legal counsel, my understanding is that the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Chaudhuri vs. State of Tennessee, which as you note is binding in Tennessee, specifically held that nonsectarian prayer at public university events does not violate the First Amendment.

I appreciate your concern about this issue, and I want to assure you that I have given this issue careful consideration.  At this time, however, the University will continue to allow prayers before University events with the Chaudhari case.”
Read the rest.

The story has been hitting the air since yesterday, but probably percolating under the surface for sometime. Why this matters so much to atheists, I have no idea.

It all reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s short story entitled The Man. Do you know of it? I only just “discovered” it a week or so ago. I read The Martian Chronicles, waay back when (and liked it), but most everything else Bradbury wrote, I never got around to reading.

Since he passed on recently, I’ve been catching up on his stuff. I read Fahrenheit 451, and then after I finished it (loved it!) I picked up The Illustrated Man* at the library, having no idea what I was in for. Lots of great short-stories, as it turns out, one of which is this story of a rocket landing on a planet and none of the natives give a rip because they had just been visited by Jesus, and he left everyone feeling strangely fulfilled.

The Jesus character (who was unnamed, but you got the idea that’s who it was, what with the miracles he performed and all) had a much bigger impact on the populace than the space travelers. I don’t want to spoil the story, but this piece of dialogue stuck with me, and came welling up when I pondered why modern atheists get so bent out of shape these days. One of the crew is sick of hearing the Captain bitch about being upstaged by the God-Man, what with all the healings and miracles. So the captain starts questioning folks,

He pointed to a woman. “You.” She hesitated. “Yes, you come here,” ordered the captain. “Tell me about this wonderful man you saw yesterday.”

The woman looked steadily at the captain. “He walked among us and was very fine and good.”

“What color were his eyes?”

“The color of the sun, the color of the sea, the color of a flower, the color of the mountains, the color of the night.”

“That’ll do.” The captain threw up his hands. ‘See, Martin? Absolutely nothing. Some charlatan wanders through whispering sweet nothings in their ears and—”

“Please stop it,” said Martin.

The captain stepped back. “What?”

“You heard what I said,” said Martin. “I like these people. I believe what they say. You’re entitled to your opinion, but keep it to yourself, sir.”

“You can’t talk to me this way,” shouted the captain.

“I’ve had enough of your highhandedness,” replied Martin. “Leave these people alone. They’ve got something good and decent, and you come and foul up the nest and sneer at it. Well, I’ve talked to them too. I’ve gone through the city and seen their faces, and they’ve got something you’ll never have—simple faith, and they’ll move mountains with it. You, you’re boiled because someone stole your act, got here ahead and made you unimportant.”

“I’ll give you five seconds to finish,” remarked the captain. “I understand. You’ve been under a strain, Martin. Months of traveling in space, nostalgia, loneliness. And now, with this thing happening, I sympathize, Martin. I overlook your petty insubordination.”

“I don’t overlook your petty tyranny,” replied Martin. “I’m stepping out. I’m staying here.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Can’t I? Try and stop me. This is what I came looking for. I didn’t know it, but this is it. This is for me. Take your filth somewhere else and foul up other nests with your doubt and your—scientific method!” He looked swiftly about. “These people have had an experience, and you can’t seem to get it through your head that it’s really happened and we were lucky enough to almost arrive in time to be in on it.

People on earth have talked about this man for twenty centuries after he walked through the old world. We’ve all wanted to see him and hear him, and never had a chance. And now, today, we just missed seeing him by a few hours.”

Captain Hart looked at Martin’s cheeks. “You’re crying like a baby. Stop it.”

“I don’t care.”

So it goes, when you have an encounter with he who St. Thomas Aquinas explains  is the one who awakens our understanding of the dignity of mankind.  As the Common Doctor states so simply and plainly in De Rationibus Fidei (emphasis is mine),

To excite our love towards God, there was no more powerful way than that the Word of God, through whom all things were made, should assume our human nature in order to restore it, so that he would be both God and man. First of all, because the strongest way God could show how much he loves man was his willing to become man for his salvation; and nothing can provoke love more than to know that one is loved.

Then also, man whose intellect and affections are weighed down towards bodily things cannot easily turn to things that are above himself. It is easy for any man to know and love another man, but to think of the divine highness and be carried to it by the proper affection of love is not for everyone, but only for those who, by God’s help and with great effort and labour, are lifted up from bodily to spiritual things. Therefore, to open the way to God for everyone, God willed to become man, so that even children could know and love God as someone like themselves; and so by what they can grasp they can progress little by little to perfection.

Also, for God to become man gave man the hope of eventually participating in perfect happiness, which only God naturally has. If man, knowing his weakness, were promised the eventual happiness of which angels are hardly capable, since it consists in the vision and enjoyment of God, he could hardly hope to reach it unless the dignity of human nature was demonstrated in another way, namely, by God valuing it so highly that he became man for his salvation. So God’s becoming man gave us hope that man can eventually be united to God in blessed enjoyment.

Man’s knowledge of his dignity, coming from God’s assuming a human nature, helps to keep him from subjecting his affections to any creature, whether by worshipping demons or any creatures through idolatry or by subjecting himself to bodily creatures through disordered affection. For if man has such a great dignity by God’s judgement and he is so close to him that God wanted to become man, it is unworthy of man to subject himself improperly to things inferior to God.

Perhaps instead of thinking that us hopeless (irony) people of faith need saving from our delusions, the Freedom From Religion types could just see fit to live and let live, instead of attacking that which is unrecognized by them.

Just a thought, from me, Ray Bradbury, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Go Vols (except for when you play the Bruins)!


UPDATE: Public Prayer at UT Revisted.

*Excerpt:  Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Print.

  • Edward Macguire

    Would you feel the same if the prayer was offered to Mithra or Osiris or Allah rather than Christ ? If you were a Buddhist, Shintoist or Atheist you probably find being the captive audience to this sort of thing rather distasteful. Perhaps the purpose is not to save people of faith from their delusions, but to save others from this sort of smarmy religiosity.

    • Christopher Braun

      Edward, there is nothing in the Constitution guaranteeing the right not to hear other people’s speech, religious or otherwise. Nor are you guaranteed not to be offended. This is the essence of the First Amendment, to protect offensive speech. Agreeable speech doesn’t need protection. Speech with which others disagree does.

    • Frank Weathers

      I’ve certainly ignored worse things in my day. Sand fleas biting me at Parris Island, for example. In cases like these, Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice comes to mind… :)

    • Sarah Black

      People have different views. Trying to force everything into this “fairness-obsessed” world view is not only impossible, it’s inappropriate. Also, Christianity is apart of the culture in the U.S., and Christian institutions have been vital in helping to shape a healthy, growing society. It is in a society’s interest to be stable. Christian institutions promote marriage, children, personal responsibility- and many other stabilizing features that make up a society. Not recognizing the fundamental role that Christianity has played in this country is ignorance of its history. It seems to me that the University is adhering to a cultural tradition that has been very beneficial to this country.

    • marya

      To answer the first question: no, it doesn’t bother me to hear prayers from other religions. So yes, I would feel the same.

  • Brandon Caples

    “This is a public university, not a Christian club. It’s open to all comers and should be welcoming.” Is this meant to insinuate that Christian organizations aren’t welcoming or open to all people? That’s not the Christianity I know. The University of Tennessee should have the freedom to begin each football game like it always has.

    I don’t see how it’s so grating to hear someone utilizing their American right to pray to the God of their choosing, or as Annie Laurie Gaylor puts it, being “prayed at.” I’ve been to a few UT games, and I’ve never witnessed anyone being “told to conform to someone else’s religion,” like Gaylor claims.

    I’ve known atheists, agnostics, Muslims and Jews; but it’s very sad to see someone arguing so vehemently, not only against the beliefs of others, but also against their freedom to express those beliefs openly.

    Maybe I should start a Freedom From Hatred Foundation.

  • Edward Macguire

    I don’t find it offensive or even disagreeable, more like silly and insincere … “And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men”

  • Frederick

    Thank you for posting this. Great tie in with Bradbury.
    I am from Tennessee and this has been a very interesting last week. I wanted to share something with you that I posted on another blog written by a Christian. She was asking whether we’re really being Christian when we pray in public and, as such, was it really necessary for UT to protect this tradition.

    Anyway, I wanted to share, as I think it has points relevant to this entire conversation:

    I appreciate you trying to think more deeply about this situation in lieu of just giving an emotional response to it. More of that type of analysis could be used in many situations.

    Let me add a few items:

    Regarding Matthew 6: I think we need to be careful to not take Jesus out of context. In that statement, he was condemning the Pharisees who pray in public–for the sake of being rewarded by men. Jesus never forbade public prayer (for if so, He broke His own teaching), he was asking that it be done so for the right reason.

    Remember, Jesus was rescuing us from the constraints of the Law. The Pharisees, as keepers of the law, wanted to show how religious and be seen by men and receive their praise…and their hearts were wrong in that.

    Jesus showed us that we can pray to God and be rewarded from Him.

    I believe the latter is true in this case. No one “praises” UTK for hosting this. Accolades aren’t handed out because of this public prayer. Fans do not go home talking about the fact a great prayer was had on the football field today. Instead, it is a small moment that reflects who we are, for the most part, in Tennessee.

    It is a truly awe-inspiring sight to witness 103,000 people be silent, especially in this day and age, while someone thanks the Creator (which, to be honest, I think counters your very crude assessment that a moment like this doesn’t display God’s glory and majesty).

    Why should that very unique, very strong (and very quick) moment–reflective of Tennessee’s (the state) makeup and heritage–be done away with, even if for a more politically-correct moment of silence?

    Keep in mind, no one is captive and attendance is voluntary. The exits are all open as well as the vendors inside Neyland. In other words, this isn’t compulsive. All are free to come and go as they please.

    Finally, and this is written with all due respect, why is it that atheists and groups like the FFRF see fit to attack that which is unrecognized by them? Why are they so consumed with stamping out every last remnant of the Lord from the public square?

    I find their resolve perplexing, especially in cases like this, for it seems they are consumed by the very thing they deny even exists.

    The Founders did not envision this when they placed the free expression clause immediately after the establishment clause. They wanted a public square where religion thrived, not where it was wholly removed from sight. They wouldn’t recognize that America.

    I appreciate the sentiments of the FFRF and its followers. But tamping down on the free expression of people at a football game proves they have really minimized themselves and undermined their mission. I know I will be praying for them.