In the South, faith and football go together like biscuits and gravy.
And that’s especially true in a place like Laurens County, Georgia – where faith flavors everyday living --- far beyond the walls of the church house.
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Those traditions were especially evident at West Laurens High School where the marching band performed great songs of the faith and folks bowed their heads to pray before Friday night football games.
On Friday night, when the West Laurens Raiders started their season, instead of one person leading the invocation – the entire stadium led the invocation. Hundreds stood to their feet and recited “The Lord’s Prayer."
But those traditions are a problem, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based group that loves to put its nose in other people’s business – especially when it comes to public displays of the Christian faith.
They fired off a letter in May after someone complained about a pre-game prayer and the marching band’s performance of the Christian hymn “How Great Thou Art” – “timed to accentuate the prayer.”
“The opening prayer and religious hymn at the football game were plainly unconstitutional,” Americans United wrote to the school district. “The presentation of prayers at school sporting events violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Now we don’t know who complained – but I’d be willing to bet a bucket of chicken that we’re dealing with one of those long-haired, hummus-eating, godless pedagogues who smell of Patchouli. The offended party probably doesn’t eat meat, either.
After consulting with their legal counsel the school board decided to replace the prayers with a “moment of silence,” – according to The Courier Herald – the local newspaper of record.
(It should be noted that there have been no reported instances of football fans converting to Christianity as a result of the prayers or the playing of “How Great Thou Art.”)
Dr. Juliann Alligood is the school superintendent. She flat-out told me the decision to drop the prayers was made before she got hired. She also informed me in short order that she is a good Christian lady and a church pianist.
That being said…
“I believe we should follow the law,” she said. “And the moment of silence probably protects everyone’s religious interests. We’re doing what we have to do.”
Dr. Alligood said the now-banned invocations were just a part of the fabric of the community.
“We’re the Bible Belt,” she said. “It wasn’t something we were doing belligerently or to thumb our nose at anybody. It had been common practice.”
But a common practice no more. They decided to follow the demands of Americans United.
So on Friday night, when the West Laurens Raiders started their season, instead of one person leading the invocation – the entire stadium led the invocation. Hundreds stood to their feet and recited “The Lord’s Prayer."
And the marching band – also – complied with the demands of Americans United. They did not follow the prayer with a rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” Instead, they played “Amazing Grace.”
Will Americans United perceive that as a musical act of civil disobedience? Will they fire off another cease and desist letter?
If Americans United wants to ban “Amazing Grace” – so be it. There are plenty more songs in the hymnal – songs like “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “When the Roll is Called up Yonder I’ll be There.”
So give it your best shot, Americans United. The rest of us are ready for a toe-tapping, hand-waving, all-night singing – armed with the Baptist Hymnal in one hand and the Church of God Red-Back in the other.
Finally – a word of advice to the hummus-eating, hymn-hating culprit who caused this kerfuffle. I sincerely doubt that our Lord appreciates you picking on a bunch of teenagers. So knock it off. Otherwise, when the roll is called up yonder – you may not be there.