Tammy Brantley never expected a social media firestorm after her post last month about a Dublin Mall security guard telling her running group they couldn’t publicly pray there.
“I’m really amazed by it,” Brantley said of the reaction. “I was really sad and I was really disappointed all this was happening in Dublin, and I put a Facebook post up.”
The local newspaper wrote a story, Fox News interviewed her and Glenn Beck’s network has called.
Brantley has not had time to read all the posts from people all over the country, but she feels a groundswell of reinforcement from those who see the policy as an infringement on freedom of speech and religion.
A local construction supervisor, Brandon Berry, has helped organize a prayer rally in the public right of way at the mall from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I am stressing this must remain a peaceful gathering of prayer and for no one to block any driveway or hinder any business,” Berry said. “We should pray for religious oppression around the world because, trust me, Dublin Mall is not a battleground. There are people far worse off than us.”
In fact, Berry is encouraged by the statement released by John Engler, vice president of McKnight Properties, which manages the shopping center: “The Mall first and foremost has no issues or objection whatsoever with anyone of any religion denomination privately and quietly praying over there (sic) food before they eat or showing devotion towards their religion of choice provided it does not impose itself on others or take away from the overall shopping experience.”
Berry said: “We consider this a small step, a small piece of ground that has been given back to us. I believe Jesus is standing with us.”
Although others pushed for a boycott of the mall, Berry said that would hurt the whole community.
He is confident the issue with Brantley was an overreaction after another religious group had been approaching shoppers.
When contacted Wednesday, Engler stopped short of saying Brantley’s group would be able to resume praying before their runs, but expressed a willingness to continue cooperating with religious and community groups.
“We really are extremely impressed with the passion the community has displayed and we’re going to still have groups, whether they’re Christmas caroling or whatever,” Engler said. “We just can’t have people privately, and unannounced to the mall, congregating in the mall and affecting people in the mall.”
Engler said the company has “handled the situation with the security group that handles the mall,” but declined to say whether there was a misunderstanding or overly aggressive enforcement of the policy with Brantley’s group.
“I wasn’t there. I can’t say,” he said. “If a group wants to have a function at the mall, the best thing to do is to call the mall office and schedule it in a proper way.”
Engler, who says he prays over his own meals, plans to be in Dublin on Thursday.
Berry expects about 500 people praying in small groups at the rally.
“It’s OK to get out of your pew and stand up when something’s wrong,” Berry said. “I want to inspire people to make changes and stand up for what they believe in and teach their children it’s all right to stand up for your rights.”
Former Dublin resident Sherri Graham, who now lives in Cochran, said she was supporting her friend Brantley when Graham launched her own crusade to publicize the debate about prayer at the mall.
She, too, was surprised about the outpouring.
“I think it shows that Dublin is a Christian community as well as the surrounding area,” Graham said. “We will come out in support of Christians and I’m standing up for America and what we’re supposed to have -- freedom of religion, freedom of speech and all our freedoms.”
For a while, Graham does not plan to shop at Dublin Mall until Brantley can resume praying with her group.
“From what I understand, it was not a large group,” Graham said. “If you only have four or five people who want to stop and pray, they’re not going to be bothering anybody.”
Brantley said her initial goal in speaking out was to change the mall’s policy, but now she sees a bigger picture.
She’s proud of her hometown and never expected the support she’s received.
“Now that I see how much it has grown, I think it’s all worth it, if one or two people get saved out of it,” she said. “Just people coming together and getting closer to God, that’s much bigger than us.”
To contact staff writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.