Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders from Oneida High School and Watertown High School gather to recite the Lord's Prayer during a moment of silence prior to a football game at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. (Photo: Sandy Martin)

Oneida High School’s cheerleading squad and public address announcer garnered regional attention with their reaction to a new school policy banning pregame prayers at football games Friday.

Kevin Acres, the school’s P.A. announcer, delivered an announcement about the new policy prior to the game, calling his words a personal opinion that did not necessarily reflect the views of the school and ending with, “As for me and my house, we will worship The Lord.”

Instead of an invocation, the school now offers a moment of silence prior to football games.

During that moment of silence, the school’s cheerleading squad linked hands on the field and recited the Lord’s Prayer. They were joined by the cheerleading squad from visiting Watertown High School. The prayer recital was organized by Kayla King, a junior cheerleader who has lobbied school administrators to allow student-led prayers at sporting events.

Acres’ announcement generated a loud cheer from fans of both schools, while many fans joined the cheerleaders in reciting the prayer. Afterwards, many offered encouragement to King and other cheerleaders, as well as Acres, on social media.

After reading reports of the prayer online, Knoxville TV stations WBIR-10 and WATE-6 visited Oneida Monday evening to feature the cheerleaders and Acres on the nightly newscast.

The school banned pregame prayers in the midst of the 2013-2014 basketball season, but the move did not receive widespread public attention until the first home football game of the season last month.

School administrators have said they had little choice but to end the prayers after receiving complaints about the tradition. Across the country, many schools have been sued by atheist organizations for pregame prayer rituals.

“The removal of prayer before football games wasn’t an option in my opinion,” King said. “It’s your option what you do during that moment of silence, whether you say a prayer or not, but ‘as for me and my house, we will worship The Lord.’ I’m thankful for the community I live in and hope to represent it well.”

King cites Matthew 5:16, which states, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Following is the complete text of the address delivered by Acres prior to the start of the game:

At this time, I have a special announcement to make. First, I want to say that the following comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oneida High School.

I have been asked many times over the past few weeks why we no longer have an opening prayer, like we have done at every football game that I am aware of since we started playing football at Oneida in 1930. The school systems, both at the state and local level have come under great pressure by certain organizations to remove vocalized sanctioned prayer from school events and activities or face costly legal action.

These groups, which incidentally in this area are in the minority, have been pushing this issue for the past several years but the pressure to conform to these groups or face financial recourse has now moved to the forefront. In an effort to protect the resources of our high school institution from any legal actions that these groups may take, we will from this point forward observe a moment of silence prior to the start of sporting events.

What you do during that time is completely up to you. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech.”

Therefore, during the moment of silence, if you want to say a prayer, or choose not to say a prayer, that is your constitutional right as an American. In other words, it is no one’s place to tell you that you have to say a prayer, just as it is no one’s right to say you can’t say one.

On a more personal note, I would like to conclude by saying, “As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.

More: Garrett: Spirit of law can't diminish spirit of Christianity

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Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.

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