The other day, I posted about how the head football coach at Naperville Central High School in Illinois had been praying with his team:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation had sent a warning letter to the District. In response, Superintendent Dan Bridges promised that the coach didn’t (and wouldn’t) lead prayers. Which is a good start, but he also can’t participate in them. That’s an issue the District didn’t address, prompting a second letter from FFRF.
The story has since hit the local media and, of course, everyone’s siding with Coach Michael Stine because they don’t understand how laws work.
The team members themselves wrote an open letter in defense of the coach:
“The players will continue this tradition of praying before our games, and would like to extend an invitation to all members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to come out next fall and watch us pray and play the game we love,” according to the letter that was signed by The Naperville Central Redhawk Football Team.
That’s fine… and completely irrelevant because no one is stopping the students from praying.
“We, as a football team and a family, give Coach Stine our full support,” said [player Daniel] Bumpus, 18, who also identified himself as an officer of the National Honor Society’s Naperville Central chapter. Stine “is the best coach in the state, and cares about each and every one of us more than any other coach cares about his players.”
That’s fine… and completely irrelevant because being nice doesn’t means Stine isn’t breaking the law.
FFRF’s Annie Laurie Gaylor called the students out, and they absolutely deserved it:
The Redhawks players “are coming to the defense of inappropriate religious conduct by a school authority figure — in this case, the coach who makes or breaks their athletic experience,” Gaylor said in the statement.
“It’s not the fault of these students that they do not understand the legal principle being violated when a coach leads, encourages or participates in prayer with student players. That was the job of Naperville Central High School, and it has failed abysmally.”
I’m sure the students love their coach, but the coach needs to respect his players enough to let them make their own decisions about religion without coercing them one way or the other.
By participating in their prayers, he’s endorsing Christianity and sending the implicit message that students who want to remain on his good side need to follow suit. If he has no intention of doing that, then he needs to keep his faith on the sidelines.
Ignorant people may say he has a right to free speech, but that goes away when he puts on his public school coaching hat. Employees of the District cannot promote their personal religious beliefs in any way. It’s just that simple.
And if the students don’t understand that, maybe they should spend their off-season reading up on how the First Amendment works.