A team captain and two other players on a Mesa, Arizona public school softball team are suing after allegedly being booted from the team for refusing to lead team prayers.
The students claim that local Mormon parents and students, as well as coach Joseph Gordman, painted the girls as bullies who were jeopardizing “team morale and unity” over religious issues. The supposed offenses included not conducting and participating in team prayers, playing hip-hop music that “offended [the] religious sensitivities” of one student at a tournament, and one plaintiff’s social media postings.
While the school claims that its actions were justified to preserve team unity, their defense is curiously lacking anything resembling evidence. In the ruling allowing part of the case to proceed, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick notes that Gordman provided no justification to his claims that the students acted in an offensive or objectionable fashion.
… [T]he complaint does not describe the music that was played at the tournament, the content of [plaintiff] B.H.’s tweets, or any facts showing how either could be considered objectionable…
If Gordman did indeed oust the girls for a lack of participation in team prayers, this is a clear violation of their rights.
The plaintiffs additionally outlined a number of other troubling practices — including releasing Mormon students from class time to attend seminary with a lack of oversight as to departure and return times, allowing tardiness from LDS students returning from seminary but not other students, etc. Judge Sedwick did not allow these complaints to proceed as they did not directly affect the students involved, but the allegations are nonetheless concerning.
It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds. These allegations might be hard to prove, but if they are with merit, I hope they are successful. Students should be able to engage in school and extracurricular activities without fear that they will be punished for not sharing the beliefs of their coach or a majority of their peers.