'It's just somebody taking a blessing away': Organization demands Pike County Schools to remove prayer lockers

Published: Oct. 4, 2019 at 8:02 PM EDT
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At the beginning of the school year, schools across the region saw prayer lockers created in their halls. The lockers, a way for students to anonymously submit prayer requests, received a lot of attention on social media.

Now, students in Pike County have to find a new way to pray. A letter was sent to Pike County Schools Superintendent Reed Adkins last month asking that the prayer locker at Pike Central High School be taken down.

"We sent the letter and said, "Look, you know, you can't put up religious displays that encourage prayer,'" said Ian Smith, Attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU).

That letter from AU, a group from Washington DC., came after an alleged complaint from someone in the community which was said to have been sent through the AU website.

"There was evidence that this was thought up by teachers in the school," Smith said. "The fact that it looks like teachers masterminded this and made it happen is a problem."

He said that was only part of the problem adding that the situation would have been the same if the project was student-led.

"Students in student clubs have the right to meet and engage in religious activities in their own time," he said. "What they don't have the right to do is sort of use the school to push that on other students."

That is why the organization reached out to Adkins asking the school to take down the locker. From there, Adkins requested that every school remove its prayer locker. Writing in the letter, "Erecting a “Prayer Locker” is a clear violation of the separation of church and state."

"I just really hope that they realize that this was a huge blessing and it was so beneficial to a lot of people," said Emily Chaney, the sophomore who organized the prayer locker at East Ridge High School.

She said the requests were constantly coming in through the locker because it allowed students to anonymously ask for prayers without an awkward conversation.

"The prayer locker was something that God really spoke to me to do," Chaney said.

And she plans to keep doing it. She now plans to take prayer requests in person, but she is not sure people will be as open to asking for prayers.

"People will just be coming to me personally and just telling me their prayer requests until we can just find a better way to do it. I hope that goes just as good," she said.

Students from her school agreed saying they know how important the prayer locker was for their peers.

"It's really helped a lot of people throughout the year get through stuff, get their thoughts out," said sophomore Joseph Slone. "A lot of people that I know, they have troubles. They have family troubles; struggles that they need to get through."

They said they do not see how the locker was pushing beliefs on anyone.

"I mean, we weren't forcing anybody to put a prayer in that locker," said sophomore Zack Mason. "I just don't see how anybody could see anything wrong with this. It's just a wonderful person, doing something wonderful. And it's just somebody taking a blessing away."

The boys said they want to do whatever they can to help Chaney in her efforts to keep the prayers coming.

Superintendent Adkins was out of town for fall break, but he told WYMT the school does not view the removal of the lockers as an infringement on any rights. Adkins said the district fully supports the students' right to free religion. He said the district is simply following the law, just like it was when it complied with the state requirement of displaying "In God We Trust" in its schools.

He said the schools will continue to have their Fellowship of Christian Athletes programs, which are student-led, but will remove the lockers from the public, shared spaces.