No prayer for you

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, as I understand it, works toward making America more secular--removing the Ten Commandments from courthouses and things like that.  I can't say I'm altogether familiar with this particular organization, but I can say that I've read about some things that anti-theists have pushed for and many of them I'm rather disappointed in, such as destroying memorial sites by removing any reference to religion.

This particular story starts somewhere around May.  A student wrote to FFRF to complain about the fact that University of Tennessee--Chattanooga had a tradition of reciting a Christian prayer before their football games (and perhaps other events, I'm not sure).  FFRF then sent a letter to UTC informing them that this tradition is in fact illegal and they should discontinue.  I'm not a legal mind.  I'm not a law student, but upon reading this letter and investigating the legal precedent cited, I believe that FFRF has a sound case that the practice of public universities reciting prayers at official university events has been ruled to be a violation of separation of church and state.

Personally, I do not believe that there is any harm in reciting prayers at football games, whether it be at a private or a public university.  I think that college should be a time to broaden the mind and expose oneself to many different ideas, including different religions.  I don't think it would be bad to see more universities adopt the practice of praying publicly--offering prayers from every religion current and past.  I think a bit of culture is good for people.  But, I cannot argue with the evidence provided by FFRF.  The prayers should stop if the university wishes to prevent a law suit.

Anyway, UTC decided (I believe sometime last week) to discontinue the practice.  Now, instead of a prayer, they hold a moment of silence.  UTK (the Knoxville main campus, where I attend) is now under fire for the same reason.  Just a few days ago, FFRF sent a similar letter to the chancellor of UTK, informing him that the prayers at UTK football games are illegal and should stop.

I signed up for a club here at UTK called the Secular Student Alliance (SSA).  It is one chapter of a national organization.  The purpose of the organization is, of course, to promote secularism.  Its main goal is to establish (or maintain) a separation of church and state.  When I first encountered this organization in cyberspace, I was pleased.  I was glad to see this kind of movement existing.  So, I was happy to join my local chapter.  I attended the first meeting of the year, which went fairly well--we basically just all introduced ourselves and that was it.

Well, last Thursday, when I saw that people were posting about the prayers at football games, I spoke up and voiced my opinion--that I saw no harm in allowing the prayers to continue.  A quite heated debate ensued.  I'm sure that bit doesn't surprise anyone who's familiar with me.  I was invited to a meeting last night that was an "open officer's meeting", meaning it was for officers of the club, but that other members of the club were invited.  I was under the impression that at this meeting, there would be some discussion about whether or not the club wanted to take any particular action on the issue.  When I got to the meeting, it became quite apparent that this was not the case.  It was already decided that action would be taken and the meeting was merely to discuss exactly how to carry out that action.

In light of the fact that this was the case--that clearly nothing anyone would say would change the fact that they were determined to go ahead with supporting FFRF, I decided to simply give what input I felt might help.  It was apparent that my input was not appreciated.  One woman in particular became very angry anytime I said anything, and made it quite clear she would prefer I remained silent.

I was quite disappointed.  I was disappointed in the reaction I got from people in the club while discussing the matter on Facebook, and I was disappointed in the treatment I received at the officer's meeting last night.  They were talking about holding an open forum, where they would invite religious students and discuss their feelings connected with the discontinuation of public prayers at football games.  They had convinced themselves that their motivation was noble--that they were just trying to look out for everyone and what would be best for all students.  And I wanted to believe that.  But the way they talked to me made it quite clear that they didn't care about other people, they only cared about themselves.  They wanted to end the prayers because they don't like prayers.

When asking ideas for what to write in the letter, one person said "suck it".  He knew that it would be inevitable that UTK would discontinue the prayers, and he had no qualms with rubbing that in.  He was gloating.  During the Facebook discussion, one person said " I give zero fucks about offending a huge number of Knoxvillians." another one said "My whole life offends a huge number of Knoxvillians." and another said "I don't want to have a positive image in the eyes of the intolerant." (where "intolerant" was meant as "people who will be upset by discontinuing prayers at football games").  I was stunned at the sheer lack of concern for other people.  It was clear to me that these people really don't have everyone's best interest at heart.  They're offended because someone's speaking magic words to a wizard they don't believe in and they want to put an end to it.  They don't care if they hurt people along the way.

I've certainly been disenchanted with this group of people.  They are shallow and false.  They put on airs of nobility, claiming to want what is best for everyone, claiming that they're only concerned about making sure people don't feel excluded.  And yet their real interests are exclusion and hurting others.  They glory in offending people, and take pleasure in injuring others.  Frankly, I want no part of it.  I'm really upset with myself that I went to the meeting last night, actually expecting these people to be the kind, caring people they claimed to be.  I'm quite angry I wasted my time with them.

But, anyway, it is inevitable.  The prayers at UTK football games will end.  Maybe the chancellor will decide himself to end them.  Maybe they'll be forced to end them in a trial.  I would think the university would want to avoid going to court over it, though, since they probably know they'd have little chance of winning.  Personally, I feel like this kind of activism is more of a witch hunt than anything else, but that's how it is.

I don't view this as an attack on religion, and I don't think it should be viewed as such.  Prayers aren't being ended.  It is still legal to be Christian and to pray and to worship god.  The issue is not with the prayer itself but rather with a public university (one owned and run by the state of Tennessee) favoring one religion (or group of religions).  No one's rights are being taken away.  You really don't have the right to expect a public university to sponsor a prayer at a football game.  I can understand why people will be upset by this, and they will be.  I have no sympathy for them, since it's merely the privileged phenomenon--you've thus far been privileged by having your religion favored at the games, and now you're being put on equal grounds by being asked to do a moment of silence instead, where people of all faiths can utter their own silent prayer to whichever god they worship (or atheists can simply think about the beauty of nothingness).  I do have empathy for you, but no sympathy.  I can understand why you might be upset, but I don't think that you should be.

The way I see it, the fewer confrontations between the religious and the irreligious the better.  I'm not affected by prayers at games (I've never been to a football game and I don't plan to ever attend one).  I don't believe anyone is harmed by them.  I see no reason why they need to stop.  I think that there will be religious people for hundreds of years to come, and there will always be irreligious people, so let's try to get along as much as possible and fight as little as possible.  I won't step on your toes if you don't step on mine.