If you are a UT Volunteers fan (or if you are from Knoxville, or if you have even just watched a UT football game), you might have noticed a tradition where a prayer is offered prior to kickoff. We are not talking about a moment of silence here, but an actual prayer. Well, recently this UT tradition has drawn heat from an organization called the Freedom from Religion Foundation and a cease-and-desist letter has been issued to UT’s Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
So why is this foundation complaining about the pre-game prayer tradition? Going all the way to the highest law of the land, part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is referred to as The Establishment Clause. This clause prohibits the Government from establishing a national religion or from showing preference to one religion over another. It can be argued (and has been arguedd by the Freedom from Religion Foundation) that a prayer led by any government official, even a public school teacher, shows preference for a religion and therefore is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The more experienced among my readers might remember a time when prayers in school was a hot-button issue. From those times, a slew of Supreme Court cases were decided stating (among other things) that school-led prayer is unconstitutional. However, it should be noted that there are instances where a government institution can deal with religions without it being unconstitutional.
So what does this mean for UT? Unfortunately for those who support the tradition, this tradition might not be able to continue if properly challenged. UT might change the tradition to a pre-game Moment of Silence, where fans can pray to themselves if they would like. Alternatively, UT might stop the tradition altogether. However, UT might even choose to defend the tradition as-is. We shall watch and see.
For a full news-article on this topic from the Knoxville News Sentinel, click here.
Update as of 9-19-12: UT has responded to the cease-and-desist letter and has decided to continue the tradition, unaltered. Click this link to view the letter: http://tiny.utk.edu/UCgcQ.
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