On praying for TN students — and relief from pandering politicians

The Johnson City Press talks with an official of the Christian group promoting a new law calling for an annual Tennessee “weekend of prayer over students” statewide in August, while News Sentinel columnist Sam Venable questions it.

Passage of the billwrites Sam Venable, “generated less interest than a $2 savings account” – but it’s still “another attempt by Christian evangelicals to influence everyone else with their notion of religion.”

“Tennesseans are encouraged to pray for protection, guidance and peace, and for opportunities and blessings on the students of Tennessee.”

I agree with the general theme.

But I disagree that it’s any business of the Tennessee General Assembly to set something like this in stone — especially when the genesis came from a Christian evangelical group that seeks to “extend youth ministries into public middle and high schools.”

That last quote comes from a Republican Senate Caucus news release. It is credited to First Priority Blue Ridge of Johnson City, the aforementioned evangelical association.

Pop quiz: How quickly would this bill have died had it been proposed by a non-Christian religious organization? You know the answer as well as I.

Let’s be clear on this: I’m not against prayer. Quite the contrary; I encourage it. As the Bible says, we should “pray without ceasing.”

But it needs to come from within. Not by edict.

Heaven knows there are millions of Tennesseans who need praying over, in addition to students and teachers. Police officers and firefighters, for example. Parents. Nurses. Truckers. Musicians. Workers of all stripes. The washed. The unwashed. And on and on.

While we’re at it, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to also pray for relief from pandering politicians who wear their religion on their sleeves.

From the Johnson City Press article:
Haley Wherry, executive director of First Priority Blue Ridge, said the idea came from the state of Alabama, where it’s taken root for nearly 10 years.

So as not to offend or leave out any groups of faith, Wherry said it was specifically worded to be non-specific, though he takes credit as being one of the originators of the bill as a representative of a Christian organization.

“It’s an open call to prayer designed to be generic, I guess,” Wherry said. “We’re a Christian organization and a lot of the denominations of Christian churches will take up the challenge. I’m sure there will be synagogues and Mormons and other religious organizations that will hopefully take up the cause.”

Detractors of the bill see it as a way to promote religion on a state level, which runs together with a discussion that’s taken place by lawmakers to recognize the Christian Bible as Tennessee’s official state book.

Sam Grover, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, issued a statement on Tennessee’s bill.

“FFRF recognizes the value of education and the importance of giving thanks to those who dedicate their lives to teaching the next generation,” he said. “But FFRF imagines educators would prefer that Tennessee legislators spend their time addressing real issues within the state rather than pandering to religious constituents.

“The recently passed SB202 falls short of taking any real step toward education reform. As FFRF’s co-founder, Anne Nicol Gaylor, once put it, ‘nothing fails like prayer.’ Calling for Tennesseans to pray is not only ineffective, it can also constitute a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If Tennessee legislators want to honor educators, then the best thing for them to do is get off their knees and get back to work.”