Coaches haven’t got a prayer against FFRF

Maybe, just maybe, public school football programs are beginning to understand that it’s not OK to have a coach involved in pregame or postgame prayers with students.

FFRF has led the way in getting many high school football coaches around the country to stop participating in any form of prayer with their respective teams during games, practices or other coaching times.

The issue came to national attention in October 2015 when Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach in Bremerton, Wash., was told to stop praying after games at the 50-yard-line, where many players would join him. But Kennedy did not stop, so the district put him on administrative leave. FFRF has backed the Bremerton School District’s decision.
Since then, several other districts around the county have made sure their coaches no longer are involved in any religious rituals during their time as coach or teacher, thanks to FFRF.

In 2015, FFRF sent out 39 letters to dozens of school districts complaining about coaches involved in prayers. So far, 15 of those have resulted in the preferred outcome of coaches not being allowed to participate in any form of prayer with students.

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After getting a letter of complaint from FFRF, coaches for the Tarkington High School football team in Cleveland, Texas, will no longer lead students in prayer. Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district on Dec. 1 to object to the practice. “The Fifth Circuit, the controlling Court of Appeals in Texas, has specifically held that coach involvement in prayer at practices and games is unconstitutional because the prayers “take place during school-controlled, curriculum-related activities that members of the [athletic] team are required to attend,” wrote Grover.

Tarkington Independent School District Superintendent Kevin Weldon told Grover on Dec. 8 that the district had addressed the matter with its staff to ensure that the district acts in accordance with the law.

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Also in Texas, after FFRF complained twice about instances of coach-led prayer in the Weslaco Independent School District, the district has finally taken steps to correct the problem.

Grover wrote letters on Sept. 17 and Dec. 7 objecting to coach-led prayers at football games in September and November. In each instance, a coach took both teams to the middle of the field and led them in prayer.

“We ask that Weslaco ISD commence an immediate investigation into this situation and ensure that its representatives are not organizing, leading, or participating in prayer with students,” Grover wrote.

On Dec. 31, FFRF received a response from an attorney for the school district. “The District has counseled its staff on these matters and expects compliance with the law in all respects moving forward,” the letter said.

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And earlier in December, a northern Illinois school district agreed to stop allowing a high school football coach from leading prayers with players at games after a local resident complained to FFRF that Naperville Central High School head football coach Mark Stine prayed with students during games.

On Dec. 8, Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne sent a letter to Naperville Superintendent Dan Bridges, who responded two days later.

“Naperville Community Unit School District 203 is aware that a coach led prayer is not appropriate,” he wrote. “The head football coach has been instructed that neither he nor his staff may lead his players in prayer.”

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And in November, FFRF sent a letter protesting a praying football coach and other inappropriate religiosity in Florida’s Bay District Schools.

Mosley High School head football coach Jeremy Brown “knowingly uses his position to proselytize and preach to students,” charged Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, citing a recent WJHG-TV report in a letter sent Nov. 24 to Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “Brown mistakenly believes this is merely a matter of not being ‘politically correct,’ when in fact it is a gross violation of students’ rights of conscience.”

For Brown, “the most important thing” about coaching has “got to be sharing Christ with the kids.” Brown believes that he is “in the business of earning crowns and not rings,” referring a passage from the bible that advocates “preach[ing] to others.” He measures success by whether or not “every kid on our football team is saved.”

FFRF has not yet heard back on how the district will handle FFRF’s request for Brown to stop praying with the team.

Freedom From Religion Foundation