Texas coach counseled after FFRF intervenes (November 6, 2018)

After intervention from FFRF, a tennis coach at a Texas high school has been instructed to cease pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

A local parent contacted FFRF after a tennis coach at Friendswood High School reportedly encouraged students to attend a prayer breakfast in September. As FFRF understands, the coach told his players that while he couldn’t “force them to attend,” he would be “checking to see who attended” and that he wanted the whole team there “in solidarity.”

At least one student reportedly felt pressured to attend the prayer breakfast because the student feared punishment if he/she were to forego the event. FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover sent a letter to the district’s legal representative to assure that coaches are not pressuring students to attend or participate in religious events.

“Athletic coaches are entrusted with a tremendous amount of power and influence over their players,” Grover wrote in his Oct. 29 letter. “Using this influence to encourage players to attend religious events is unacceptable and unconstitutional in the public school context. It appears that [the coach] coerced the students in his care to participate in the prayer breakfast.”

The legal firm representing the school sent a response to FFRF, stating that the coach has been “counseled on this matter and now full recognizes that he cannot encourage student attendance to religious events.” Additionally, before the upcoming spring prayer breakfast, coaches will again be reminded they may not in any way encourage or endorse participation in the breakfast.

Freedom From Religion Foundation