Devaney stands with football prayers against ACLU

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney is accusing the American Civil Liberties Union Tennessee of using “scare tactics” to “intimidate” public schools on the issue of prayer at high school football games.

After the ACLU-Tennessee last week sent a letter to school superintendents warning about reports of “school-sponsored prayer in numerous” football programs, Devaney today fired off his own letter to the superintendents, calling the ACLU a “far left” organization.

He also says he’s started a petition.

“With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization,” Devaney says in the letter.

He charges the ACLU-Tennessee letter “misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.”

Moreover, Devaney said, the ACLU-TN willfully misrepresents a point in the U.S. Supreme Court case Sante Fe Independent School District v. Doe case it cites. The Court has found “(n)othing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday,” Devaney said.

Note: Previous post HERE (on the ACLU letter). The text of Devaney’s letter is below.

Dear Superintendent,
One week ago, you likely received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN). The message is the latest yearly missive sent out by the far-left organization meant to intimidate Tennessee students and high school athletes from exercising their First Amendment rights.

The group behind the letter misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.

Moreover, the ACLU-TN willfully misrepresents a point highlighted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case it cites. The Court has found: 

“(N)othing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.” Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S.
290, 313 (2000). 

When it comes to this issue, we stand with families across Tennessee who want to protect expressions of faith in the public forum and the precious freedoms we all hold dear.

It should be noted this is a Tennessee issue, not a partisan one. My colleague who leads the Tennessee Democratic Party, Roy Herron, was actually the first individual to lay out this position. In an opinion piece he authored as a State Senator about this very issue for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Herron wrote, “The Constitution does not require government hostility to religion.”

He wrote this to give a public explanation for the Tennessee Student Religious Liberty Act. The law was meant to “prevent government discrimination against religion, and to see that students’ existing constitutional rights are honored.” Essentially, the law enshrines the Court’s finding in Santa Fe here in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Legislature further clarified what is permissible in Tennessee schools recently with the passage of a law that ensures “school administrators may not prohibit personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students.”

Obviously, the ACLU-TN is using scare tactics and the implied threat of litigation to stamp out the First Amendment rights of students. Not only is this a transparent political stunt, it is a misreading of the law and misunderstanding of Tennessee’s unique spiritual heritage.

With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization.

Respectfully,

Chris Devaney