Guest column: Les Wicker

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When I read the guest commentary written by self-proclaimed atheist/agnostic writer, Annie Gaylor, I wondered why the Daily News would devote a full quarter-page for this woman to espouse her agnostic views that are frothed with half-truths and innuendo regarding a prayer before a football game at the University of Tennessee.

Evidently Gaylor and her watchdog group were concerned one local pastor spoke a sectarian Christian prayer before a football game against the University of Florida.

OK. But before she gets her ire up, she and her Freedom from Religion group should have listened to the response from the chancellor of the university regarding what is allowed in terms of prayers held at the university.

Further, what right does someone from Madison, WI, have to tell the chancellor and the governing board of the University of Tennessee as to how to run their university?

Gaylor alluded to having received "complaints" about a prayer spoken before the Tennessee/Florida game. I have found during the course of my life that when people say "we are getting complaints" or "people are saying," it is 99 percent of the time the person making the statement and not some nebulous group of people out there somewhere.

If Gaylor is going to say complaints have been received, she should substantiate such a statement with such facts as to who and how many.

Thirdly, Gaylor makes the statement that "up to a quarter of today's college students" identify themselves as nonreligious. Throwing out categorical statements without substantive data is just another way to push your own personal agenda. If such statements are going to be used in a commentary, present the unbiased facts based on empirical research — albeit college students in this generation generally do not participate in organized religion, just like their parents and grandparents in previous generations. But are one-fourth of the students at the University of Tennessee or the University of Florida atheists or agnostic? I seriously doubt it!

Finally, Gaylor alludes to the fact the tax-supported University of Tennessee is home to many foreign students and they might be "offended" by a Christian prayer.

She is right. It is a tax-supported university supported by the good people of Tennessee. It is great to have international students at American universities, among them the very best universities on earth. But these students are guests of our country and guests of the universities the taxpaying people of this country built and paid for.

I was recently in an Islamic country and when the Muslim cleric climbed the minaret, gave the call for prayer, and all the Muslims fell on their knees facing Mecca, I was not offended, because this was their country and I was a guest in their country. But this is our country. These students are guests in our country, all here with the privilege of a student visa.

Gaylor and her group, seeking freedom from religion, should be reminded that the colonies were settled by people seeking their right to religious expression. All the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were, in fact, Christians — 32 Episcopalians, 13 Congregationalists, 12 Presbyterian, and so forth. When there was no place to hold worship in Washington, presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison invited local clergy to hold worship in the House of Representatives, a practice that continued until after the Civil War.

America is a country of fairness in every way, far more than any other country on earth. Great efforts are made to give ear and voice to everyone, majority or minority. But it is time for the trend of the minuscule minority's ability to determine the course taken for the overwhelming majority to cease, as in the case of Gaylor's Freedom from Religion group.

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