Hugh G. Willett-knoxnews.com
LOUDON — Hundreds of Loudon County men, women and
children gathered on the county's courthouse lawn Thursday to
pray in support of religion in their community.
Almost an hour before the event started, children
wandered across the grass holding signs that read "He stood for
us. We stand for him." An older man with a baseball cap that
read "Jesus is my Boss" stood next to the World War II veterans
Toby Brewster, a member of Calvary Baptist
Church in Lenoir City, sat with her grandson and watched the
crowd gather from a fountain overlooking the courthouse. She
said her minister had urged her and other church members to
"We want to let our elected officials know
that we are behind prayer in the schools," she said.
Becky O'Dell of Loudon wore a sign that
declared: "It's freedom of religion not freedom from religion,"
a reference to the Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom From Religion
Foundation that began challenging Lenoir City and its prayer in
schools policy after the News Sentinel profiled a high school
senior whose column — titled "No Rights: The Life of an Atheist"
— was not allowed to run in the school newspaper.
Secular groups have since alleged that the
Lenoir City school board violated the constitution by allowing,
among other things, prayer before its meetings and football
games. The city's police department was similarly accused over
the word "religion" on patches worn by its officers.
While the school board announced it would
cease such prayers, Lenoir City Mayor Aikens said Monday the
city has no plans to remove the patches.
A number of county and local government
officials were in attendance at Thursday's event, including
Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron, several county
commissioners, some Lenoir City Council members and members of
the Loudon County school board. Some of the Lenoir City
officials said they could not talk because of fears of pending
State Reps. Jimmy
Julia Hurley, both Lenoir City
Republicans, also attended. Hurley said she was impressed with
"All these people showed up to let their local
officials know how important religion and prayer is to their
community," she said.
The crowd, which grew to well over 500 by the
time the program started, cheered event organizer James Raucci
as he explained why the event was held.
"What we've seen in the last week is an attack
on religion," he said "I'm tired of seeing things like this
Raucci challenged the secular organizations
that have been targeting Lenoir City and urged local officials
not to back down to threats of lawsuits.
"No organization has enough money to sue
everybody who believes in God," he said.
Pastor David Cooper of the New Life Ministries
Church was the featured speaker at the event. He urged the more
than a dozen other pastors in the audience to join him at the
front of the crowd.
"It's time to be bold. We have to learn to
agree that we will not be pushed around" Cooper said.
As the program continued, the atmosphere took
on the air of a "revival" as the crowd urged Cooper on with
spontaneous shouts of "Amen" and "Praise Jesus."
"We can't let them take prayer away from our
children," Cooper said as the crowd erupted in cheers.