The groups were small, but the prayers were ardent Wednesday morning as Harker Heights High School students exercised their right to free speech and desire to pray for their fellow students.
Groups of students throughout the greater Killeen area gathered around flagpoles at their schools to pray as part of the national See You at the Pole event.
At Harker Heights High School, senior Austin Cooley was the first to arrive at the flagpole, ready to lead the group.
“Every year, we pray for the student body and for our teachers and administrators,” said Cooley, who attended the event last year at Harker Heights and the year prior at Ellison High School. “We do not have (prayer) in school anymore because they don’t allow it. So, this is a wonderful thing and they can’t stop us.”
School-sponsored prayers in public schools are unconstitutional, but prayers organized by students are allowed and protected by free speech rights. However, Cooley said it was difficult to reach out to other students for the event.
“It’s hard, especially when the associate principals are around. They tell us that we cannot talk about religion and to put our Bibles away,” said Cooley, who estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the school’s student population is Christian. “I feel bad because many of the students do not know God. So, I invite them to church.”
Sophomore Felicity Secrest and her sister, Jennifer, a freshman, also attended the event. They said it’s difficult to talk to other students about God and agreed it does take courage.
“We have definitely made Christian friends here at this school and several of us go to the same church,” said Jennifer Secrest, who attends The Spirit of Fort Hood Chapel’s 11 a.m. service.
“We do pray for everyone,” Felicity Secrest said. “Some people unfortunately do not know who God is. They need to or they won’t be truly happy in life.”
The event also had adult support from the community.
“It’s important to support the students, especially when they are stepping out to lead in prayer. Our schools are in desperate need of prayer,” said Matt Cornelius, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Killeen.
The public prayer gatherings took place at elementary and middle schools, too. Fifth-grader David Woodrich and his younger brother, Joshua Woodrich, a third-grader, organized a See You At The Pole event at Meadows Elementary School at Fort Hood.
“Me and my brother wanted to do this so that other kids would know God,” Woodrich said.