There were sharp words Thursday from the Tennessee Republican Party about a letter sent out last week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee that went to all of the state's school superintendents.
Party chair Chris Devaney told News 2 that the letter amounts to "bullying" along with "scare tactics" and "a fundraising ploy."
Last Friday, the ACLU in the letter told the superintendents that their districts should refrain from school-sanctioned prayer.
It came after dozens of coaches in the Chattanooga area told a local paper they support some form of team prayer.
"It's a new way for them [the ACLU] to be the school yard bully, and we said enough is enough," said Devaney.
His words came just hours after the state Republican Party launched a petition against the ACLU position on its Web site.
The party also sent letters to all the state's superintendents saying, "We stand with families across the state who want to protect expressions of faith in the public forum..."
"This exercise is to reassure superintendents and school board members and teachers and coaches that their students have a right to pray," added party chairman.
The state executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee seemed a little perplexed by the Republican leader's sharp words.
"I can guarantee you these are not scare tactics or bullying," Hedy Weinberg told News 2.
The letters "were gentle reminders, not threats of litigation," she added. "The most important information we were sharing with the school superintendents was that government, in this case public schools and coaches, should not be part of promoting religious activities in the schools."
The ACLU maintained the best way to protect religious freedom of individual students "is to ensure that their public school--their coaches, their teachers their principals are not telling them how to pray, when to pray and to whom to pray."
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican Party said it had about 1,000 signatures on its ACLU petition by late afternoon.
The Republican Party in its letter to the superintendents said Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Roy Herron "was actually the first individual to lay out this position" of protecting expressions of faith in the public forum.
The Republican letter said "in an opinion piece [Herron] authored as a State Senator about this very issue for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Herron wrote, 'The Constitution does not require government hostility to religion.' "
When asked for a response, Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese issued a statement to News 2 that read in part, "The Tennessee Republican Party is just trying to hide the damage they are doing to the middle class with falling wages and rising unemployment. If the Republican Party wants to pray, they should start by praying for a Tennessee jobs plan."