Over 1 million people across the United States joined at local school campus flagpoles Wednesday morning to pray for their community, schools and nation as part of the annual "See You at the Pole" event.
The national event, which was created by the Alliance Defending Freedom in 1990 to celebrate the student's constitutional right to pray, is held every year at 7 am on the fourth Wednesday in September. This year, hundreds of schools take part in what one participant called "the single most important day of the school year."
"It allows people to come down and really share what's on their hearts with us," said Jordan McBrayer, who is a senior at Seymour highschool in East Tennessee.
"When that's all around America and when that's all around the world even how many students and how many Christians that is pretty awesome to think about," added senior Gage Smith.
"It's love," said Smith. "It's fellowship. It kind of give you a glimpse of what heaven is going to be like."
The 2014 theme verse follows Paul's famous passage on the armor of God, challenging and encouraging Christ followers to stand strong in the Lord and be His representatives to share the Good News of the Gospel.
Hundreds of Christian organizations such as non-profit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom support the event, encouraging students to practice their religious freedoms.
"Students don't abandon their constitutional freedoms at the schoolhouse gate," asserts ADF senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "They continue to have the freedom to peacefully express their beliefs while at school, and that certainly includes prayer. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of the students' religious or political beliefs."
"During this time of fear and uncertainty, it's so crucial for students to be able to join together and pray for our country and for one another," says Professor Jean Smith, who teaches at Brown Academy in Clarksville, IN and has participated in the event for the past six years.
"See You at the Pole is such a wonderful opportunity for both encouragement and witness. It's the single most important day of the school year."
Doug Clark, promotion coordinator for See You at the Pole, added that it is"vital" for students to gather together and pray at their schools.
"The heart of God that has been revealed to us about this event is that students might feel ownership and vision to represent Him to their schools," Clark said.
"The unity factor of SYATP is key," he asserted. "Students are involved in many different churches, but they come together as the body of Christ when they pray at SYATP."
Although the event has received criticism from several groups who call the event "unconstitutional," the ACLU released a statement in 1995 acknowledging that the SYATP observance does not violate the Constitution.
"Student participation in before or after school events, such as 'see you at the pole,' is permissible. ... School officials, acting in an official capacity, may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event," the ACLU stated in its "Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools" released in 1995.
"The First Amendment protects the freedom of students to participate in 'See You at the Pole' and its prayer and worship activities," ADF legal counsel Matt Sharp said. "Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed."