The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped Middletown High School’s football coach from leading prayers and proselytizing students after he reportedly kicked a student off the team for refusing to pray.
FFRF originally contacted Middletown City Schools in Ohio last spring about football coach Chris Wells leading students in prayer and inviting them to his church. The district assured FFRF that the principal and athletic director met with Wells, informing him his actions crossed the line and he was not allowed to pray with students.
However, when the new school year started this September, FFRF received a report from a new complainant that Wells continued to pray, leading prayers before and after every game.
Wells apparently insisted on prayer after the team’s Sept. 19 game, which the team lost. He reportedly told the players they needed to re-dedicate themselves to God and put their faith in God, telling the players to take a knee and pray. When one player refused, the coach allegedly threw the student off the team.
“Coach Wells is purposefully and willfully ignoring the law and the District’s explicit directive,” wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a second letter of complaint. “These allegations are incredibly alarming and upsetting . . . we are gravely concerned that students’ rights are being grossly and egregiously violated.”
“We remind you that federal courts have specifically held public school coaches’ leadership of and even participation in their team’s prayer circles unconstitutional,” Markert said.
An attorney for the district responded in November, saying administrators reiterated to Coach Wells that he could not “involve religion in any way in either his coaching or in his involvement with students,” and making restrictions on his conduct as a public employee clear. The attorney said the athletic director was assigned to be more active in practices and games to ensure no additional issues.
“Should you receive any more complaints, please let me know, so that the District can investigate and take further action,” said the district response. FFRF will monitor the situation to ensure Wells does not again ignore the district’s instructions and the Constitution.
FFRF is a prominent national state/church watchdog, with more than 600 members in Ohio and 21,500 nationwide.