Prayer at Smyrna public high school event stirs debate - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Prayer at Smyrna public high school event stirs debate

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SMYRNA, TN (WSMV) -

The issue of religion and schools is the talk again in one Middle Tennessee county after a commissioner said a prayer at the celebration of a new school.

Rutherford County Commissioner Steve Sandlin gave a prayer at the open house and ribbon cutting for the new Stewarts Creek High School in Smyrna.

"He prayed over the children, prayed over the $82 million investment we have here, that the school board did a good job of spending the taxpayers' money on it," said State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna. "We prayed protection over the school and the children."

Sparks was in the crowd at the time and said he didn't have a problem with the prayer at the school function, especially with the negative influences students are facing every day.

"In this day and age, where we are seeing a drug epidemic, we're seeing human sex trafficking and a lot of issues facing young people," Sparks said. "Many of them will probably be introduced to drugs in their high school. So, I applaud his prayer."

Former Riverdale High School teacher Steve Cates says he's a Christian and a member of the First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, but contends folks, especially elected officials, shouldn't force prayer on anyone.

"I think it was totally out of place," Cates said. "[Sandlin] was using his position as a county commissioner to promote his religion on public property, government property. I don't think that was the time and place to do that."

Charles Haynes, the director of the Freedom Education Project, told our news partners at the Daily News Journal that the Supreme Court prohibits official prayer to take place in front of children and adults in public schools.

Cates said the county is made up of a lot of different religions and beliefs and says people should be mindful of that.

"Christians need to have another mindset," he said. "They need to consider, 'Suppose I'm not the majority. How would I feel about the majority running rough shot over me?'"

"That's what we are elected to do, is to do what the people want," Sparks said. "If the people want us to pray, and pray for their children, let's do it."

Channel 4 News reached out to Sandlin to get his thoughts about giving the prayer at the public school, but he didn't return our calls or emails.

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