You’ve heard this script before: Football coach prays with students. Someone in the community notices and alerts the Freedom From Religion Foundation. FFRF sends a letter to the school district letting them know that’s illegal. District promises to put a stop to it.
In the case of Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana however, District officials don’t even seem to understand the problem.
Football coach Andy Hape joined his team in prayer after an October game and a photographer captured the moment for a local newspaper. FFRF asked the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. to look into the issue.
EVSC spokesman Jason Woebkenberg confirmed the district received the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
EVSC attorneys are reviewing the letter, Woebkenberg said.
“Please know student-led prayer is acceptable at any of our schools, and we stand by those who stand with our students during student-led prayer,” he said in an email Tuesday morning.
What the hell sort of response is that? Literally zero people are arguing about student-led prayer. The only issue here is coaches participating in those prayers.
Woebkenberg isn’t the only person who oozes ignorance or refuses to grasp the simple problem.
Metropolitan School District of Mount Vernon Superintendent Tom Kopatich doesn’t think Reitz is the only school to have teams gather before or after a game.
Kopatich said he often sees most teams — both Mount Vernon and the schools they play — convene.
“I’m not sure what they do,” he said. “But it’s sad that it’s coming to that place that we’re trying to eliminate that. People have to realize, if you don’t want to be there or you don’t want to participate in something of that nature, you don’t have to. It’s a choice.”
No one is trying to eliminate student-led prayer. More importantly, though, it’s not a choice when a coach joins the team in praising Jesus because that sends a very clear message to team members that if they want to stay on the coach’s good side, they need to play along with his religion. No high school student should be in the position of having to decide whether to follow their own religious conscience or get more playing time.
But I guess we can thank Kopatich for making everybody aware that church/state violations are likely occurring all over the area.
By the way, he’s part of the problem, by his own admission:
In the mid-90s, when Kopatich was named Mount Vernon High School’s basketball coach, he recalled reciting the “Our Father,” also known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” with his team before and after games.
Most of the time, he said, players led prayer.
Kopatich said he was reminded then that coaches aren’t supposed to lead prayer.
“The only thing I had was my athletic director came to me and said, ‘You need to be careful if you’re leading prayer. Just be very careful with that.’ … That was my very first year, and I coached several years, and we did it all the way through,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything else.”
It’s true. Coaches can break the law all the time if they want to. Unless someone has the courage to speak up — which is incredibly hard in a conservative Christian community — no one’s going to force the coaches to stop.
That’s why good superintendents are supposed to look out for the best interests of their students instead of letting the coaches run wild with their religious proselytizing. Kopatich doesn’t seem capable of that.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Image via FFRF)