Coach participation in student prayer to cease in Indiana district after FFRF complaint

1GibsonHighFootballAn Indiana public high school will instruct its coaches to stop participating in student prayer after the Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened.

A concerned South Gibson School Corporation community member reported that Gibson Southern High School personnel prayed with student athletes after a home game on Nov. 2.

A photo posted on social media shows coaching staff for both teams, as well as other adults, bowing their heads in prayer and placing their hands on students, along with the caption, “This is how two of the best football programs in southern Indiana complete a game … the power of prayer — at Gibson County, Ind.”

It is unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne reminded the district in his Nov. 30 letter.

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” Jayne wrote. “When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the District’s behalf.”

On Dec. 17, FFRF received a response letter from the school district’s attorney addressing the concerns and assuring it that the district would take action to ensure that its adhere to the First Amendment in the future.

“We want to emphasize to our personnel that they may not participate [in] any such student led prayer,” the letter read. “We further plan to instruct the school personnel, including all coaches, that they may not encourage, lead, initiate, mandate, either directly or indirectly, any such student prayer.”

FFRF commends the district for taking swift action to correct this constitutional violation and to ensure that it doesn’t reoccur.

“We applaud the district for taking steps to honor its students’ First Amendment rights,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Coaches may pray on their own time in any way they would like. They are not, however, permitted to coerce students and players to pray in any way whatsoever.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members across the country, including over 400 members in Indiana. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement