"See You at the Pole" is a grassroots phenomenon that has obviously met a felt need and touched a raw nerve in American society, or at least the public school subculture of that society.
The prayer movement is a student-initiated, student-led phenomenon of young people from the so-called "Millennial Generation," a group who seem to possess rich religious faith. Ministers and volunteers who have worked with young people for many years report that you cannot be around today's Christian young people for very long without noticing their particular spiritual intensity for personal and national spiritual renewal. Many baby boomers, baby busters, and Generation Xers will attest that there is a fervor and intensity in today's teenagers that their generations too often lacked.
The movement began in early 1990, when a small group of teenagers in a Bible study weekend retreat in Burleson, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, felt led by God to pray for their schools. Driving to three different schools that Saturday night, they were drawn to the flagpoles and knelt in prayer for their classmates, schools, and leaders.
Out of that small beginning, a nationwide movement soon ignited. Word quickly spread from youth group to youth group. As leaders gathered and shared their experiences, a vision emerged of challenging students from all across Texas to meet at their school flagpoles simultaneously to pray. Twenty thousand students met at a giant youth rally in Dallas in June 1990 to hear this vision, now called See You at the Pole.
By the appointed hour and day the following September, more than 45,000 teenagers met at their school flagpoles in four states to pray before the commencement of the school day. By the next September, over 1 million students gathered at their school flagpoles all across America and prayed for their friends, their schools, their leaders, and their country. Since that day, the See You at the Pole momentum has continued to grow dramatically. In 1999, more than 3 million students from all 50 states, as well as students in more than a score of other countries, participated in See You at the Pole events. This year's theme, "A Generation Seeking God" (Psalm 24:3-6), will have inspired well over 3 million young people to gather at as many as 56,000 schools in every state across the nation to pray fervently for spiritual awakening for the nation.
Perhaps the most often overlooked point of See You at the Pole is that most students see it as a time of prayer and dedication--not a culminating event, but a beginning. These students are asking God to use them to help bring spiritual renewal to their campus and to the nation, and they are dedicating themselves to sharing their faith with their fellow students. This is their right, and they believe it is both their religious privilege and obligation as well.
Despite popular confusion, long ago the Supreme Court decided in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate" and that a student's free-speech rights apply "when he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours."
In light of the confusion wrought last June by the court's Santa Fe decision, which bars students from leading school-stadium crowds in prayer or meditation, I joined with my fellow Southern Baptist agency heads in making available to every Southern Baptist pastor and youth worker a letter explaining that the Santa Fe decision prohibited only school-sponsored prayer. The letter further explains that the Supreme Court's opinion "did not preclude voluntary Bible study and prayer clubs that are student-led and student-initiated without coerced attendance or actual government sponsorship." We quoted the Supreme Court's express notation, "Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day."
We took this unprecedented step to help correct the far too common assumption, aggravated by misperceptions of the Santa Fe decision, that American public school students somehow forfeit their First Amendment religious free-expression rights when they step on public school property. In fact, nothing in the court decisions or American law precludes students from sharing their faith with other students, bringing their Bibles to school, or expressing their religious beliefs in any school venue, such as class discussions, presentations, or writing assignments, where students are encouraged to share their opinions and concerns.
And that is as it should be, as long as the government does not take sides and favor one religious view over another or allow the majority to silence minority perspectives from being expressed. To say that students should not be allowed their right to religious expression with fellow students would be censorship of religion and would allow secularism to silence faith--and what is American or right about that?