A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times published a story about a football team in Texas, Rockport-Fulton High School, playing a game after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. It’s an inspiring stories in a lot of ways, but one portion of the story raised a few eyebrows.
Rockport lost the game to the team at Sinton High School. But in a gesture of goodwill, the two coaches shook hands after the game and gathered the teams for a mass prayer.
… Sinton head coach Tom Allen headed to the middle of the field to shake [coach Jay] Seibert’s hand. Allen called both teams together, and they huddled on their knees for a prayer.
Allen said something bigger happened than a football game.
“I honestly can’t put myself in Coach Seibert’s shoes, and I don’t know how I would have reacted to this situation,” Allen said. “I hope that just by getting out here and playing football helped with the healing.”
There’s a lot to love about this story. Your heart goes out to the students who have very little to go back home to. And you root for the coaches who wanted to bring back some semblance of normalcy to the kids’ lives. And it’s wonderful to see the support offered by one team’s members to their opponents.
But that group prayer is still illegal.
Regardless of Coach Allen’s purpose in calling together the two teams after the game, his purpose would be better served through a secular speech that could be appreciated by all the students present, rather than through a religious ritual that unnecessarily divided the teams into Christian insiders and minority religious and nonreligious outsiders. We ask that Sinton ISD investigate this situation and ensure that Coach Allen understands his constitutional obligation not to promote religion while acting in his capacity as a district representative. Please inform us in writing of the steps the district takes to respect the right of conscience of its students athletes.
I have no doubt some Christians, perhaps even some atheists, will find this mean-spirited, especially given the situation. But you can’t let this stuff slide. These public school prayers wouldn’t be okay when the weather is perfect and it shouldn’t be okay after a hurricane.
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