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Tea Party Organizes Prayer Rally – Atheists Attend

By  | April 2, 2012 | Filed under: News

Gary Cosby at podium, "It's a lie..."

FLORENCE – About 160 people attended a rally at Wilson Park Saturday – 150 Christians and 10 atheists. The rally, sponsored by The Tea Party Patriots of North Alabama, emphasized their belief that public prayer in schools was a First Amendment right, and the Supreme Court ban should be overturned. One of the organizers, Carolyn Chandler, said that the rally was organized on behalf of their children and grandchildren whose Christian beliefs were being trampled on. “We want to point out to the Lauderdale County School Board that prayer is a student’s First Amendment right,” she told The Quad-Cities Daily, “and we want their decision reversed.”

Tea Party organized.

Her remarks referred to a recent decision by the Lauderdale Schools Superintendent that all prayers that were being held before football games must cease. That decision came upon the heels of a threatened lawsuit by a Wisconsin based atheist organization, Freedom From Religion, primarily directed at pregame public prayer at Brooks High School.

Tea Party Organizer, Mike Diggs

There was a mix of student and adult speakers at the 90-minute event. One of the speakers, a student at Brooks High School in Killen, the center of the football-prayer controversy told the crowd that, “If you don’t want to hear a prayer before a ballgame, just stay in your car until it’s over. It is our First Amendment right to pray, and The Supreme Court is wrong.”

Secular Protesters kept on sidewalk

As the rally proceeded, a small group of sign-carrying protesters marched on the sidewalk that surrounds Wilson Park. They were members of two non-religious organizations in The Shoals, The Student Secular Alliance (UNA) and Humanists of The Shoals. Their message was, notwithstanding what the Tea Party was promoting, that the ban on public prayer in schools or at school-sponsored functions was settled law.

The Tea Party activists told the audience that settled law, or not, it was their First Amendment right, and prayer was legal. “This is an invasion of our individual rights,” said Michael Hart, a Christian conservative radio talk show host from Birmingham. His message to the participants was if they continued to pressure Congress and the Courts, they would eventually prevail in their fight to restore prayer in public schools.

Jerry Hill, Brooks High School football coach.

Another speaker, Brooks football coach, Jerry Hill told the audience that he supports the newly-implemented tradition of students, players, and their families and friends to join together on the field before football games to engage in”spontaneous prayer” before each game. He promised that he would continue to do so until he was hauled away.

Protesters standing beside Florence Police Car.

The protesters, who were kept on the event perimeter by a police order, told The Quad-Cities Daily that they see things in a different way. “What about the right of a non-religious child who would be forced to sit in a classroom and hear a prayer over the P.A. system? Wouldn’t they feel set-upon by the authorities for their differences in beliefs? What about Jewish or Muslim kids who would hear a government sanctioned prayer, which ended in the name of Jesus?’ one demonstrator said. “What about that child’s First Amendment right to believe in they way their parents have seen fit to raise them?”

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Lee Lopez - President Humanists of The Shoals

Leandro Lopez, President of Humanists of The Shoals, said, “Contrary to statements by Tea Party speakers at today’s rally, all public school students enjoy broad rights to pray or engage in other personal religious practices while at school. However, by law, the school itself must remain neutral on such matters and protect students of all faiths and no faith from pressures to act against their conscience in order to adhere to the doctrines of any religion.” The protesters said all they want is for the Law of The Land to be upheld. “We are attending this Tea Party rally to remind people that not everyone agrees with the Tea Party’s promotion of Constitutionally impermissible public school-sponsored prayers. For 60 years the US Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that any attempt to employ the machinery of the State to sanction any religious preference is coercive and a violation of equal protections granted to all citizens by our Constitution.” Lopez continued, “Many Shoals area citizens, both religious and non, agree with the protesters present today that the First Amendment of our Constitution not only protects the State from the Church, but also the Church from the State. The Establishment Clause ensures that all citizens have a right to worship, or not, as their conscience dictates and also serves to limit the powers of those who would take away that right.”

The issue is far from settled. If the recent past is any indicator of future events, the Tea Party will continue to promote “taking our government back” with their rallies and with their actions at the voting booth. Saturday’s event, however, shows that not all Shoals residents are in agreement with them. As the event ended, and participants started heading out of Wilson Park, there were several encounters with the protesters who had positioned themselves at the different park exits. By all accounts from the attendees and protesters alike, the encounters were civil.

Related story: LINK

Here’s the photo gallery:

 

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One Response to Tea Party Organizes Prayer Rally – Atheists Attend

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