Oneida High School is the latest victim of a lawsuit threat from a bullying anti-Christian organization. So, this season, the school stopped its pre game invocation at football games. Administrators correctly reasoned that to continue pre game prayers would be to fight a battle the school could not win. The school district is strapped for cash and cannot afford a legal battle — a legal battle it would almost certainly lose — which is why organizations such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation target small schools in the first place.
But in a small town in the heart of the Bible belt, where 90 percent of the folks in the bleachers on Friday nights will trade their team pride t-shirts for “go-to-meeting” clothes and fill the pews of the town’s churches on Sunday, that hasn’t set well. Head coach Tony Lambert, an unabashed Christian who uses his post game radio interview every week to “thank the Lord for saving my soul,” said after the first home game this season that the change made his stomach turn. “I see things happening in the world today . . . I see things happening right here in our own community, the way we conduct our business on Friday nights,” Lambert said. “I hope I’m always willing to take a stand.”
At Friday’s second home game of the season, against Watertown, public address announcer Kevin Acres delivered the following speech just before the game began, generating a roar of approval from fans on both sides, those wearing orange and those wearing purple alike:
At this time, I have a special announcement to make. First, I want to say that the following comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oneida High School.
I have been asked many times over the past few weeks why we no longer have an opening prayer, like we have done at every football game that I am aware of since we started playing football at Oneida in 1930. The school systems, both at the state and local level have come under great pressure by certain organizations to remove vocalized sanctioned prayer from school events and activities or face costly legal action.
These groups, which incidentally in this area are in the minority, have been pushing this issue for the past several years but the pressure to conform to these groups or face financial recourse has now moved to the forefront. In an effort to protect the resources of our high school institution from any legal actions that these groups may take, we will from this point forward observe a moment of silence prior to the start of sporting events.
What you do during that time is completely up to you. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech.”
Therefore, during the moment of silence, if you want to say a prayer, or choose not to say a prayer, that is your constitutional right as an American. In other words, it is no one’s place to tell you that you have to say a prayer, just as it is no one’s right to say you can’t say one.
On a more personal note, I would like to conclude by saying, “As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.
On the field, cheerleading squads from both schools joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer during the moment of silence. It is an effort organized by junior cheerleader Kayla King. The reigning Miss Scott County Fairest of the Fair, King refused to accept the idea that prayers were being cut out before games and has actively lobbied school administrators for ways to bring student-led prayers back to the games.
As silence descended across Dr. M.E. Thompson Field, the sounds of the cheerleaders reciting the prayer could easily be heard . . . and, in the stands, fans joining them. First one, then a few, spreading throughout the bleachers by the prayer’s end.
In the end, things haven’t changed. Used to be, everyone heard a prayer — usually led by a student; sometimes led by a local minister — before the start of the game, delivered over the P.A. On Friday night, everyone heard a prayer, led by a group of students from each school. The bullying efforts were rendered moot and pointless.
And that’s taking a stand.