The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has remedied a constitutional violation taking place within an Oklahoma City school district.
It was reported to FFRF by a concerned area resident that Putnam City High School had been including religion in its football program. The Rev. Mike Keahbone was allegedly leading the team in prayers. Keahbone had explained that his goal, in coordination with his church, was to proselytize players, having stated, “If the Lord opens the door, we’ll share the Gospel with them.”
In a letter sent to City Schools Superintendent Fred Rhodes, FFRF informed the district that it can neither allow a non-school adult access to the children in its charge nor can it grant that access to a religious speaker seeking to proselytize students.
“Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, because public schools may not advance or promote religion,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line. “Similarly, it is illegal for a public school or school-appointed volunteer to organize, sponsor or lead prayers at public high school athletic events.”
FFRF emphasized that school endorsement of Christianity is particularly troubling given that almost half of young Americans are non-Christian. The state-church watchdog requested that the district end the chaplaincy program and and take action to stop coaches and other school representatives from organizing, leading or participating in prayers with student athletes.
A legal representative of Putnam City Schools recently informed FFRF that the district had investigated the incident and discovered that Keahbone had been allowed into the team’s locker room to interact with students and offer prayer. FFRF was assured that new procedures had been put into place and that the athletic staff has been instructed that the practice of allowing access to students and engaging in prayer before any game would cease immediately.
“Religion is divisive and has no place in a football team locker room,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re pleased that the school district has taken corrective action to honor their students’ rights of conscience and create a more inclusive team atmosphere.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members across the country, including members in Oklahoma. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.