A high school in Middletown, Ohio, will no longer allow Coaches to lead athletes in prayers. According to a local complanant, the varsity football coach would provide food for players after practice, then tell students to bow their heads so the coach could lead them in prayer. It is our information that the coach also encouraged players to attend his church, invited them to church events during football practice and also provided rides. He often encouraged players to be “saved.”
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the superintendent explaining that public school coaches cannot lead teams in prayer: “The prayers led by [the coach] in the Middletown football program, as well as his pressuring students to attend his church and be ‘saved,’ constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The prayers are clearly offered as part of regularly scheduled school-sponsored activities, so a reasonable Middletown student would certainly perceive the prayers as ‘stamped with her school’s approval.’”
On April 25, the District responded with a strongly-worded letter:
“[The Principal and Athletic Director] expressly informed [the coach] that his actions had crossed the line, and were impermissible. He was expressly informed that he was required to respect others’ religious beliefs, that his conduct could be viewed as a government’s endorsement of religion, and that he was not permitted to engage in any of the conduct listed in your letter (or similar conduct, for that matter).
“Although we encourage [the coach] to instill high moral values in his athletes, we reminded him that endorsing or promoting one religion in his coaching capacity was prohibited both by federal law and by existing Board policy.”