A Missouri school district has listened to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and ended its football coaching staff’s practice of praying with the student-athletes.
Joey Ballard, head coach for Jasper High School’s boys football team, regularly led team prayer, a concerned parent of a player had informed the state/church watchdog. During these prayers, student-players gathered around Ballard on bended knee, with additional coaching staff surrounding the students while Ballard delivered a Christian prayer and then led the students in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, FFRF reminded the school district.
“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Jasper R-5 School District Superintendent Christina Hess. “Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers.”
Head Coach Joey Ballard’s conduct was unconstitutional because he endorsed and promoted his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee, as did the other coaches when they participated in these prayers, FFRF explained.
FFRF’s constitutional advice has been heeded.
“A Jasper Schools lawyer says the matter involving alleged coach-led prayers has been resolved,” reports a local TV station.
“In response to your letter dated Oct. 6, 2020, we write to advise you about the actions the district took in response to your initial correspondence indicating that a coach of the Jasper R-V School District was leading students prayer,” the district’s legal counsel stated. “In response to your complaint, the district conducted an investigation into the matter. We are unable to share the results of that investigation with you, as it involves confidential personnel information. However, we can tell you that employees of the district were reminded of the district’s board policy regarding religion at school and were also instructed not to lead students in, or promote, prayer. This matter has therefore been resolved. ”
FFRF is always happy to impart corrective lessons to school districts.
“Students should never have to pray to play,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad we put an end to this outrageous practice.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 400 members in Missouri. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.