Billy Hallowell | October 13, 2014
Hundreds of residents took to a high school football field Friday night to collectively bow down and pray — a massive response to atheist activists’ recent accusations that a local school district is guilty of at least two violations of the separation of church and state.
But the prayer event wasn’t the only noteworthy response to secularists’ complaints, as local resident David Hoover placed three large Christian crosses on land he owns across the street from Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio — 10 to 13-foot symbols intended to send a message.
As TheBlaze previously reported, a free speech debate touched off in the city after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular activist group, accused the Licking Valley High School District of violating the First Amendment by allowing high school marching band members to wear T-shirts with the word “salvation” on them during a recent performance.Photo credit: Shutterstock
And in a separate complaint just days later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation cited a 2013 Facebook photo showing a member of the school’s football team leading his fellow players in prayer as evidence of yet another purported violation.
While players are permitted to lead team prayer, it was the presence of three coaches participating in the invocation that drew atheist ire, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
After Licking Valley Superintendent David Hile recently dismissed the band grievance, but said that the prayer concern was potentially legitimate, residents decided to take action.
So locals took to the field at Randy Baughman Stadium Friday night, where they kneeled down, recited the Lord’s Prayer and cheered — all acts taken in response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s complaint letters, according to the Newark Advocate.
One resident apparently made shirts that read “Stand up, stand strong, Amen!” and passed them out during the mass invocation.
Event organizer Melanie Fitzgerald-Klein told the Newark Advocate that the effort was undertaken to bring local supporters together for the cause.
“It was just about getting the community together and supporting the school. I know the boys could pray on their own,” she told the outlet. “But I wanted to show our staff and our coaches and all the faculty that we support them.”
Fitzgerald-Klein said that she was stunned by how many people showed up at the event, noting that it “snowballed” and that hundreds of children and families participated.
And as for Hoover and his massive crosses, he told WTTE-TV that the symbols on his property are also a direct response to atheist grievances.
This is only the latest in a series of clashes between atheist activists and local communities over public prayer and Christian symbols.
Consider the debate that unfolded at Arkansas State University when a commemorative cross was mandated removed from football helmets; the university later reversed this decision.
And cheerleaders at a Tennessee high school took a stand recently after the Freedom From Religion Foundation advocated for prayers over a PA system to be ceased.