School still life with copyspace on chalkboardWritten by Don Byrd

In Tennessee’s Oneida County, like many places across the country, high school football games for many years opened with a prayer over the loudspeaker. After questions were raised by religious liberty advocates regarding this practice, Oneida decided to end the prayers and open instead with a moment of silence. The cheerleaders, however, had other ideas.

“During the moment of silence all the cheerleaders came together and recited the Lord’s Prayer,” [junior Kayla] King explained.

On Friday night’s game against Watertown, the cheerleaders from both teams joined hands and recited the prayer, and they weren’t alone.

“In that moment the atmosphere was kind of great because it was nothing but heads bowed, and you heard the Lord’s Prayer ring over the football field,” said King.

Is that a lawful response to the ban on school-sponsored prayer? That will likely depend on the extent to which cheerleaders actions here are seen as representing the school during games and during the moment of silence. This issue has gotten some attention during the last year because of the dispute over religious-themed cheerleader banners in Texas.

But is it an appropriate response? Is it indeed “kind of great” to fill the moment of silence with the signature prayer of Christ? Personally, I don’t think so. The purpose of a moment of silence is to allow everyone the freedom to acknowledge their individual thoughts, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Humanist, Atheist or otherwise. Pray, reflect, meditate, or just sit in the quiet.

Recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in a group, hearing the words of Christ echo all around you, is kind of great, it’s true, in a house of worship with like-minded believers, or at a family meal, in the spirit of prayerful fellowship. A high school football game, however, is a time for all in a community to come together. A moment of silence is an appropriate way for such a diverse audience to mark that occasion according to personal beliefs. Interrupting that silence with your own specific prayer is in my view not kind of great. It’s kind of rude.