Bell County High School football fans challenged a ban on pre-game prayers Friday night by saying them anyway during a moment of silence.
"It's not a prayer that's led by the school or sponsored by the school. It's just an opportunity, a moment of silence is pretty commonplace, and to let people have, whatever thoughts they want to have at that time, is up to the individual," said Bell County Schools Superintendent, George Thompson.
Just before the 8:00 p.m. kickoff, an announcer came over the loud speaker and asked the crowd to "please remain standing for a moment of silence." That was followed by local pastors leading the fans in The Lord's Prayer. Some fans said other prayers.
The school districts decision to replace the pre-game prayer, a game night tradition for decades, with a moment of silence comes on the heels of them receiving a letter from the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" over the summer. The letter explained that some students had made a complaint about the pre-game prayers.
The school told the community before their first home game back in August that school-sponsored, pre-game prayers, led by an announcer, could no longer be held because of the complaint.
That set off a controversy, and led a group of churches to organize Friday's "Let Us Pray" night. Ideal Print Shop in Middlesboro, KY printed up more than 1,000 shirts that read "Let Us Pray" on the front and have a prayer on the back. The shirts were donated to fans.
Fans who wore the shirts at Friday night's game said they don't agree with the prayer ban, but know they have no choice to respect it. At the same time, they feel they should be able to freely share their own beliefs.
"I think everybody should have freedom of speech to do whatever they please," said student Katrina Johnson.
"We're not giving up on the Lord. If we let something this small get away from us to stand up for the Lord, what else, we don't stand up for nothing that's any good then," said fan Jimmy Haley.
School officials said the school-sponsored moment of silence, filled with prayers from the crowd that are not school-sponsored, is a good solution to respecting all religious and spiritual beliefs. They expect this to become the new tradition before Bell County High School football games.