School prayer supporters push back in Loudon County

By Hugh G. Willett
Turnabout is fair play for some Loudon County residents who argue they have the right to file a lawsuit to keep prayer in their schools.

A letter to the Lenoir City school board from Loudon activist James Raucci poses the question: "What if Loudon County Churches and student families threatened a class action lawsuit for re-instituting prayers?"

The letter mimics the style of letters sent to the Lenoir City board from secular organizations such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation that have threatened lawsuits if prayer is not removed from school activities.

Raucci, who helped organize a rally for prayer that drew more than 500 people to the Loudon County Courthouse lawn a few weeks ago, said he was disappointed Lenoir City had decided to substitute a moment of silence for the prayer that was previously held before board meetings.

Courts throughout U.S. history have found that the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government from sanctioning any form of religion.

Lenoir City schools attorney Chuck Cagle, who is also the attorney for the Tennessee School Board Association, did not respond to calls for comment on the letter.

Raucci said another prayer rally will be held in Loudon in a few weeks.

The letter asks for prayer to be re-instituted at board meetings, football games, graduation ceremonies and other events. Also requested is the right to promote religion by teachers and to allow the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to place posters in the high school.

Local pastors back Raucci's message.

"We're trying to get religion back into the schools," said Pastor David Cooper of the New Life Ministries Church, in Blount County.

Cooper, whose church members have children in Loudon County schools, spoke at the recent courthouse lawn rally. He said he knows the school system is under pressure from outside the community.

According to Cooper, if other organizations can threaten lawsuits to keep prayer out of school, Christians in the community should be able to sue to keep prayer in the school.

"We don't actually want to file a lawsuit, but we want our leaders to know that we are willing to fight for our children's right to pray in school," he said.

The public practice of religion and the profession of faith is a fundamental part of Christianity, said Pastor C.E. "Jack" Jackson III of the First Baptist Church of Lenoir City, one of the largest Christian churches in Loudon County.

"Jesus didn't say go up on a mountain alone and practice Christianity by yourself.

He said to go forth into the world and spread the word," Jackson said.