Hundreds of people flocked to the East Ridge High School auditorium on Monday night for a “Pray Anyway” rally, a direct response to controversy sparked over prayer lockers in Pike County high schools.
Monday’s “Pray Anyway” rally became a church service inside of East Ridge High School’s auditorium, where hundreds of people from around the region came to sing worship music, purchase “Pray Anyway” merchandise and listen to keynote speaker and preacher Greg Locke, who criticized the Americans United for Separation of Church and State organization for “silencing students’ prayers.”
“I think it’s way past time that the church in the United States of America stands up and pushes back against the evil that is trying to silence us and this culture,” Locke said. “We’ve raised a generation of cowards, and I’m grateful for this community and these churches and the folks that are coming together. I’m grateful for these young people who are willing to speak up and stand out in the name of glory. That’s a big deal in these days, ladies and gentlemen.”
After it was brought to district officials’ attention in September that school employees from the Pike County Schools District were involved in creating and advocating for use of the lockers in Pike County Central High School, and allegedly East Ridge High School, district officials requested that all district employee-involved prayer lockers be removed from all county schools.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization advocating for the separation of church and state, informed Superintendent Reed Adkins and Pike County Central High School Principal Steven Taylor that it received a complaint about a prayer locker because the locker was not an entirely student-led project. The locker was posted on social media and accredited to several teachers who allegedly helped create it. The organization requested the employee-involved prayer lockers be taken down.
Superintendent Reed Adkins told the News-Express that the issue came with school employees helping to create the prayer locker, not with the use of the prayer locker itself. He said that a completely student-led prayer locker project would be allowed, and students who wanted to individually create prayer lockers would not be kept from doing so.
“As long as the organization or situation is student-led and doesn’t disrupt the educational process, then our school district will not impede it,” Adkins said. “That’s their First Amendment right.”
Before Locke spoke to the energized crowd, two students involved with the creation of the prayer lockers gave remarks about their support for the rally, one being from Pike Central High School and one being from East Ridge High School.
Alexis Newsome, the student from Pike Central, said the prayer locker she helped create went viral on Facebook, and it was ordered that it be taken down after the letter from the “lobbyist group from Washington.”
“I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who are here today because without all of your continued support, this would not be possible,” Newsome said. “We have reached people all over the country. What you all have been doing is really making an impact.”
At Monday’s rally, preacher Greg Locke did not shy away from criticizing Americans United and other organizations who, he said, try to “silence” Christianity, including the American Civil Liberties’ Union, a national organization that aims to defend Constitutional rights.
“We’re going to pray anyway,” Locke said. “It doesn’t matter what the AU says, what the ACLU, the AAA, the A-B-C-D-E (says). We’re going to preach anyway. We’re going to stand anyway. We’re going to do what’s right. You’re going to take away our prayer lockers? We’re going to make all the lockers prayer lockers, praise God.”
During his sermon, Locke described taking down students’ prayer lockers today as being similar to being asked to bow down to golden statues during biblical times.
“I believe this is a Christ-led movement,” Locke said. “The church better get right with God because we’ve been bowing down to some golden statues lately, ladies and gentlemen. We’re afraid that people are going to back us into a corner or they’re going to call us names, and they’re going to call us ‘bigots,’ and they’re going to call us things that are going to hurt our feelings.”
During his sermon, Locke criticized liberals and people on the left side of the political spectrum for, he said, “being too politically correct” and attempting to “take God out of schools.” He said that he believed followers of Christ should go above “what the law says” to follow God. The crowd, which consisted of people of all ages wearing multicolored “Pray Anyway” shirts, cheered in support for the preacher.
“If a high school can be on fire for the gospel, then your church better be lit on fire for the gospel,” Locke said. “Shame on us for letting the kids out-worship us. You say, ‘Man, Brother Locke, I’ve learned my whole life that we have to submit to the governmental affairs of humanity.’ Yes, we do. I get it, until they disobey the law of God. Peter says, ‘We’ll obey what the law says, but when the law of God and the law contradict, we jump the law and we stick to what God says. We ought to obey God, rather than man.”
The “Pray Anyway” movement was created by pastor Aaron Butler, of Elkhorn City Baptist Church, in the hopes of encouraging students to continue prayer locker projects and other prayer activities in spite of Americans United’s request. Butler created “Pray Anyway” merchandise, including buttons, bracelets and T-shirts, which are being sold through the movement’s Facebook page, which has grown to more than 3,000 “likes.” He handed out free buttons and bracelets to Pike County students, and he is selling T-shirts to raise money to provide the free merchandise.
“There is definitely an agenda behind it,” Butler told the News-Express. “In my opinion, they need to stay out of this community’s business. They’re trying to get rid of Christ. Everything they do is to take God out of our schools. They want students to check their religion at the door before going to school, but you don’t check Christianity at the door because it exists within you. The young people shouldn’t have to check their religion at the door.”