Just recently, a Wisconsin-based atheist group co-founded by Dan Barker, a former pastor, fought to remove prayer before sporting events at a school in Ohio. In response, the students, who have the support of their local community, are now pushing back against the removal by calling for a “moment of silence” before every game and creating “Prayer Matters” t-shirts.
Specifically, Barker’s Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a cease-and-desist letter to the West Branch School District in Beloit, Ohio earlier this year demanding that they end their beloved tradition of having a local pastor “give a nondenominational prayer before sporting events.” Upon receiving the letter, the school district determined that they didn’t have the resources to stand up for their religious freedom and decided to end the custom instead.
Outraged, the students and local community have decided to take matters into their own hands. At basketball games, for instance, Jonny Ross, a junior and leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has started asking attendees to remains silent for a moment following the National Anthem for “either reflection, individual prayer or some other expression.”
In addition to observing a moment of silence, t-shirts with the phrase “Prayer Matters” were also created and sold by Brooke and Brandy Pidgeon, whose son Nicholas is on the basketball team. They came up with the idea after hearing their son say the phrase at the dinner table.
So far, thanks to the help of a team of volunteers, they’ve managed to sell over 4,000 shirts, which is incredible considering the fact that their small community is only made up of roughly 900 people.
The success of the shirts, however, isn’t very surprising as the FFRF’s demand left many understandably outraged. For example, upon learning about the letter telling the school to stop its tradition of prayer before sporting events, parent Marcie Curry told reporters, “they don’t know us, have never attended a West Branch sporting event or even stepped foot in our community. Yet they believe they can tell us to stop one of our cherished, long-standing community traditions. That just doesn’t seem right.”
Jeremy Dys, the Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, which is a nonprofit law firm focused on religious freedom, also spoke out the FFRF, stating, “these students have every right to pray before their sporting events. Atheists need to stop stalking and bullying religious students across the country and recognize their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.”
When asked by reporters about the community’s response, West Branch Superintendent Timothy Saxton pointed out that his district is a deep-rooted Christian and faith-based community” that holds prayer in high regard.
“The only opposition that I have had anyone voice to me is through this letter,” he added, noting, “if anything we’ve had a strong positive show of support.”
Saxton’s comments were echoed by John Ryser, a local pastor. “Everybody’s really coming together in support of the prayer issue, and we’re having more conversations about prayer and about the gospel — the good news about Jesus Christ — than we’ve ever had before,” explained Ryser.
Not everyone in the community, though, opposes the removal of prayer. “I think it’s the right call,” argued Amanda Kaiser, who has three children in the district. “If we can’t include everybody, then we shouldn’t give anyone special privileges,” she reasoned.
Sadly, members of the FFRF aren’t the only ones cracking down on Christianity. The same thing is also happening online.
On Facebook a few weeks ago, for instance, the social media Gestapo removed a well-known Christian group’s Facebook page for speaking out against abortion and homosexuality. Apparently, doing so is in violation of their community standards because it’s “hateful and threatening.”
Penkoski, however, insists that the ministry has done nothing wrong and was completely outraged by Facebook’s decision to remove them from their site.
“These are not violations of community standards. Facebook may not like it but it is not a violation of anything. It is not hurtful. It is not obscene. It’s not attacking. It’s not threatening. We are Christians. We don’t do that,” argued Penoski while speaking to reporters.
“We have never done anything close to that. In fact, we have stated emphatically that we don’t want harm to come to anybody, whether they agree with us or not,” he added, noting, “our job is to preach the truth because we want people to live better lives.”
Disturbingly, the attack on Christianity is even worse in China, where children are banned from entering churches.
“Minors receiving religious education and formation too early in churches would seriously affect the normal implementation of the education system,” declared officials in a notice that was sent to over a hundred churches in Wenzhou, which is located within the largely-Christian province of Zhejiang.
To clarify, they stated that attending church and learning about Christianity keeps children from developing “a correct worldview and set of values.”
The authoritarian left must not be allowed to control the lives of others. Thankfully, the residents of Beloit largely understand this and made it explicitly clear that they won’t tolerate outside groups dictating what their community can and cannot do. Hopefully, when faced with a similar situation, others do the same.