N.C. graduates stand for prayer
    July 1 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

    Pastor Marc Sanders sounds like a proud parent when he discusses the stand a group of North Carolina high school seniors – some of whom attend the church he leads – took during their graduation ceremonies in June.
    In response to Chatham County school officials removing prayer from the commencement programs of Chatham Central and Jordan-Matthews high schools, seniors from both schools rose to their feet during their ceremonies and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
    “We’re very proud of our students,” said Sanders, pastor of Sandy Branch Baptist Church in Bear Creek. “It went over very well in the crowd. People were standing and applauding.”
    The public stand that the students took at the two high schools is reminiscent of the one a South Carolina high school valedictorian, Roy Costner IV, took earlier that month.
    During the ceremony he ripped up his pre-approved commencement speech and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
    The event quickly went viral on YouTube. (See related guest column.)
    “That definitely inspired us,” said Cayley Oldham, one of the graduates from Chatham Central and a member of Sandy Branch Baptist Church.
    “We want[ed] to do this, not just our valedictorian. … We all wanted to do something.”
    Days before graduation, four students at Jordan-Matthews High School requested during a Chatham County Board of Education meeting that prayer be removed from commencement ceremonies. A national group, Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), also sent a cease and desist order to the Chatham County School superintendent, threatening to sue if the schools didn’t remove prayer from their graduation programs.
    The schools responded by replacing prayer with a moment of silence and reflection.
    “My phone blew up once this news got out,” Sanders said. “It just made me mad,” Oldham said. “It’s our freedom of speech and … if no one stands up and fights it [then] prayer is going to be banned everywhere.”


    File photo
    Marc Sanders, seen here at a previous Baptist State Convention annual meeting, has some students from his church who took a stand during their graduation ceremony in June.  Sanders, who pastors Sandy Branch Baptist Church in Bear Creek, urges believers to stay informed and become more involved in local politics in order to protect their rights.


    With school officials across the country continuing to tighten restrictions on public prayer, Sanders said most schools aren’t equipped to stand up to lawsuits and threats from watchdog groups like FFRF.
    “They don’t have money to spend on court cases, and so they’ll just bow to the pressure,” he said.
    “… Everybody is afraid of getting sued. … Now [churches and religious organizations] have that added fear of the IRS and losing your tax-exempt status.”
    It is time for believers to “wake up” and become more informed of their rights as American citizens, Sanders said.
    “If it can happen in Chatham County, the rest of the state is fair game,” he added. “The biggest thing is … most people don’t know their rights.”
    Last fall, West Marion Elementary School officials in McDowell County removed references of God from a first-grade student’s poem that she had written for a Veteran’s Day school program. According to media reports, the girl wrote the poem to honor her two grandfathers who served in the military.
    “He prayed to God for peace,” the girl wrote in the poem. “He prayed to God for strength.” Many complained the school had broken the girl’s First Amendment rights by editing God out of the poem.
    Despite these and other obstacles, Sanders challenges believers to not be intimidated, to stay informed and become more involved.
    “The history of the church says the church is at its best when it’s persecuted,” Sanders said. “I think the problem is that a majority of our people in our pews are fast asleep and don’t see this coming for what it is. We never saw it coming in Chatham County.
    “… Our churches need to be more involved in the public schools,” Sanders added.
    “You can get in there and do things, but you have to be willing to try.”


    Related column

    Valedictorian goes rogue, recites Lord’s Prayer

    7/1/2013 1:44:27 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
    Filed under: prayer, religious freedom, rights, Sanders

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