Ohio public school coaches must refrain from praying with team, FFRF warns

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging coaches in the East Knox Local School District to cease school-sponsored religious worship following complaints of coaches praying with their team.

A concerned district parent alerted FFRF that the football coaches at East Knox High School in Howard, Ohio, are participating in prayer circles with their students during football games. FFRF has written a letter to the district, reminding it that it’s illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or participate in team prayers. 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.

“The East Knox High School football coaches’ conduct is unconstitutional because they endorse and promote their religion when acting in their official capacities as school district employees,” FFRF Legal Fellow Dante Harootunian writes to Superintendent Steve Larcomb. “Certainly, they represent the school and the team when they act in their official roles as coaches of the football team. Therefore, they cannot lead their team in prayer and cannot participate in their student’s prayers.”

FFRF is asking that the district take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers 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 promoting religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 800 members in Ohio and a chapter in Cleveland. 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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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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