Elijah Burgess took a stand against his school district’s new policy that argues prayer should not be included in school activities. Burgess, a football player for Upperman High School in Tennessee, told Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt that leading his team in prayer is something he had to do.
The school district prohibited coaches and parents from leading students in prayer, sparking outrage from the community.
“One of the things that growing up I never thought would happen is that I would be told not to pray,” Burgess said on “Fox & Friends.”
“They told us to not pray, so I had to do that,” he said. “That’s like one of the things that I’ve got to do if someone tells me not to do.”
Christa Mullins, mother of an Upperman football player, had the idea for one of the students to lead the prayer.
“My son came home from practice last week and was really upset and said that our coach had received a letter from an attorney stating that they could no longer pray.”
She spoke with other football parents and they decided to join hands around the players when they huddled for the post-game prayer.
“There were some concerns about possibly being kicked off the team if they continue to pray – or even kicked out of school, if they continue to pray,” Mullins said. “And so I just wanted to reassure the team and cheerleaders that we as parents and community are here for them.”
The Putnam County School District gave this statement to Fox News, noting that students are, in fact, allowed to pray during school activities: “Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing cannot be sponsored by schools or school personnel… [but] we support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers.”
Mullins still voiced frustration about coaches being prohibited.
“I’m a single mom, and my son looks up to his coaches not only as coaches, but mentors and even friends,” she said.
“I think it’s important for the youth to be able to go up to a teacher or coach – these are lifelong relationships – and ask, ‘hey, can you pray with me?’ So to be told that they can’t do that is where I’m frustrated.”
Jenna Wilkens, a cheerleader for Upperman High School, said prayer is “the most powerful thing,” and explained that they’re not going to stop praying after games.
“The whole community is going to come together as a whole, and we’re going to do it whether they tell us to or not,” Wilkens said.
Amy Nelson is a producer with Fox News Digital.