I can’t believe I have to keep saying this: If high school football coaches want to break the law by praying with students on the field, they should at least make sure cameras aren’t recording them doing it.
And yet here was scene on August 24 when a coach at New Lexington High School in Ohio led the team in the Lord’s Prayer:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation notes that the “coach gives some words of inspiration before leading the entire team in reciting New Testament verses.”
FFRF says there was a cheerleading coach in the same District doing something similar a few years ago. They wrote a letter at the time, but not much got resolved. Now that it’s happening again, they’re right back at it:
“Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to New Lexington Schools Superintendent Casey Coffey. “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students. Federal courts have held that even a public school coach’s silent participation in student prayer circles is unconstitutional.”
The conduct of the New Lexington Schools coach is unconstitutional because he is endorsing and promoting his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee. He represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as coach of the New Lexington High School football team. When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the school district’s behalf.
“The coach is free to offer all the prayers in his private life,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But once he’s there at the school, he’s not permitted to impose his religious beliefs on others at school events and in his capacity as coach or mentor.”
It’s not that complicated. It’s Coaching 101. And yet it continues across the country as if the law doesn’t apply if it’s a Christian prayer.
All the coaches have to do is step aside while the students pray. It’s an easy problem to fix. Until then, it’s a good thing there are whistleblowers everywhere bringing these posts to FFRF’s attention.