By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
A school system in Tennessee has to go to the time and expense of providing training to employees on the constitutional law concerning “the application of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in public schools” (see story here).
All of this is happening because a Tennessee Baptist youth pastor dared to do what’s right — pray for an injured high school football player.
Last September Eric Dill, youth pastor at Bayside Baptist Church in Harrison was serving as the chaplain for Central High School when a player was injured during the game. Dill was asked by some of the players (from both teams) to pray. As Dill prayed players gathered around him. Many of the coaches and officials also bowed their heads, according to the news report.
Nothing was made of the event at the time. Nearly four months later, however, the school system receives a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that the constitutional rights of students were violated because of that prayer.
I personally think the school district should tell the Freedom from Religion Foundation to take a hike, but I will give the school district some credit. Their attorney responded to FFRF that “rather than being an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, this was human compassion at its finest.” Amen and Amen.
Prayer can’t be turned on and off like a light switch. Sure, we often say prayers at designated times, but prayer at its best occurs when it’s needed regardless of the when and where.
I commend Eric Dill for his action and courage though he probably didn’t see it as courage at the time. For him, it was an automatic response to a serious need.
Dill told a local television station: “If a student asks me, ‘Eric, pray for this,’ especially in something like this, I’m going to pray. If I believe in a God who answers prayers, how bad do I have to hate the kid who’s injured or the player who asked, or the players who are hurting not to pray?”
According to the news story, someone anonymously complained to the FFRF about the event. That took a lot of courage. Regardless, however, it led to the complaint from FFRF that coaches or other school employees led the prayer. In this case, I can argue that even if a coach did lead the prayer it’s not a violation of the separation of church and state. But, by all accounts, no coach led the prayer. Some of them simply bowed their heads.
I have said it time and time before. I get so tired of hearing how conservative Christians are so dogmatic and try to force our religion down everyone else’s throats. We don’t even belong in the same ballpark with some of these anti-Christian organizations that proclaim Christians are intolerant. They wrote the book on what it means to be intolerant.
I fear it will get worse. Christians are going to continue to be under scrutiny. I participate in a prayer group that for more than a decade has met in a local fast food restaurant. We have only had one issue during that time — and that was because we sat in the local senior adults section before we knew it was their spot. Since then, we have even had people come and ask us to pray about something for them.
I hope it never becomes an issue, but in today’s world, there might be a day when we are told we can’t pray in that restaurant.
Until that day, Christians need to be more fervent than ever in praying for our nation and our world.
Follow the example of Eric Dill who prayed without even considering the consequences because it was the right thing to do at the right time. And, remember one thing: it is never wrong to pray.