Missouri high school coaches must cease proselytizing players, FFRF warns

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a Cameron, Mo., public school district to cease school-sponsored religious worship following complaints of coaches leading players in prayer.

Cameron High School’s Head Football Coach Jeff Wallace and Assistant Football Coach David Stucky have reportedly been holding religious “chapel” services for players before and after football games where coaches pray with players and read and discuss bible verses. After games, Wallace reportedly holds religious services with players on the 50-yard line and leads players in prayer. Wallace often brings in outside preachers to proselytize to players, as well.

It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in religious prayer, FFRF points out to the district. The U.S. Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools as it constitutes government endorsement and advancement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer or worship, he effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Matt Robinson. “Certainly, Coach Wallace represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as head coach of the football team. Therefore, he cannot lead his team in prayer or religious worship, and he cannot organize or advocate for students to do so either.”

FFRF asks that the district take immediate action to investigate these complaints and stop any and all school-sponsored prayers or religious worship occurring within any district athletic programs.

“School officials are free to pray in their private lives however they would like,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But when they are acting in their capacity as government employees, they are violating the constitutional rights of impressionable young students by inciting prayer and promoting religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country, including over 400 members in Missouri. 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.

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