Students at Rockvale High School in Tennessee plan to lead their own prayer before their football game this week. That decision comes after a complaint was lodged against their football coach for praying with his team after a game on August 30.
Coach Rick Rice was called on the carpet after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, supposedly in response to an anonymous parent's tip, filed a complaint with the Rutherford County, Tennessee school system. The FFRF said Rice violated the Constitution by leading the team in prayer.
According to WTZV Fox 17, the school principal then 'addressed the issue' with Rice, who apologized for any misunderstanding.
The school system issued a statement saying the issue has been resolved, adding "Any prayers or religious activities must be student-initiated and student-led. Employees are not to lead the activities or participate other than to provide supervision."
The Daily News Journal reports in a phone conversation Monday Rice apologized for leading the prayer and said he didn't mean to offend anyone. He said he led two prayers this season and that a student-led a prayer at another game.
Prayers on the football field are not alarming at all to many in this community. News 4 reports residents say it's a long-standing tradition.
"We always prayed before games. It was just part of what we did," Rockvale resident Drew Kilgour told News 4.
"That's something that you see on the fields, that's something that you see in the locker rooms, that's something that you see in the classrooms, in small groups when it comes to any athletic sport, but especially in football, we really see that," said Ronnisha Simmons-Duke, mother of a Rockvale High School freshman.
The controversy has spurred two students to take the lead in keeping the prayers flowing and the tradition alive.
According to the Daily Journal, Rockvale students Madison Nowacki and La'Naya Nelson announced plans to host a group prayer circle at 6:30 p.m. on the track before the Rockvale Rockets face off against the Oakland Patriots Friday night.
"We have been talking about wanting to pray with our team for a while, but we were scared at first," Nowacki told the newspaper Tuesday. "After the complaint, we thought we should voice our opinions as well and stand with our coach," she said.
Nowacki defended Coach Rice, telling the Journal, "I believe that the complaint was very unnecessary and it upsets me to see it. Coach Rice is an amazing, outgoing and hardworking coach. ... It was a prayer to heal the boys, and make sure they stayed strong."
Both girls have a brother on the football team and believe prayer is good for the team.
"Those are our friends on the field, and with the guidance of God we believe they will make it out and play harder, smarter and stronger," she said.
The group that filed the complaint against Coach Rice, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, is based in Madison, Wisconsin, but has a branch operating out of Knoxville, Tennessee. That may be why they've been so active in filing complaints against prayer and other cherished Christian traditions in neighboring Tennessee communities.
Recently, the FFRF complained about baptisms of athletes on the football field in Robertson County, TN, saying the coaches were acting unconstitutionally by promoting and endorsing religion to students. But as reported by CBN News, the school system rejected the premise of the complaint and fired back in a statement saying "Specifically, the activities … were student-initiated, student-led, and occurred after the practice session had ended, and after school hours. All participation was voluntary with no requirement for attendance either stated or implied."
The students at Rockvale High School say they've gotten lots of positive feedback from the community for their prayer plan – student-initiated and student-led – and are on track to pray for their team prior to the game Friday night with anyone who wants to join them.