Stop coach’s preachiness, FFRF asks Idaho district

Emmett

A football coach should desist from imposing his religious doctrine on students, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to an Idaho school district.

The national state/church watchdog has learned that Emmett High School’s football coach, Rich Hargitt, regularly promotes his personal religious beliefs to his football team. For instance, a Facebook post describes Hargitt telling his team that “the glory of the victory belongs to God.” The post seems to indicate that he is using his position to preach to the players on his team.

Hargitt’s use of his public school position to promote his personal religion to students is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF stresses.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Emmett Independent School District Superintendent Craig Woods. “Courts have continually held that public school teachers and coaches may not promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Federal courts have held public school coaches’ organization and participation in team prayer and religious activities unconstitutional.”

In Duncanville (1995), the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a coach’s attempts to engage in religious activities with players at practices and games were unconstitutional because the religious promotion took place “during school-controlled, curriculum-related activities that members of the [athletic] team are required to attend.” The court also rejected the district’s argument that prohibiting a coach from praying with students would violate the coach’s right to free speech, stating that “the principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause” and that the district therefore had an obligation to prohibit its coaches from endorsing prayer.

For this reason, prohibiting Coach Hargitt from promoting religion to his players does not violate his free exercise rights. Further, Hargitt’s proclamation that the “glory belongs to God” sends the message to his nonreligious players that they are disfavored outsiders. While Coach Hargitt is free to hold and express his personal religious beliefs outside of his position as a football coach, teachers and coaches have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators. The district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing during school-sponsored activities.

That’s why FFRF is asking that Emmett Independent School District investigate its concerns and ensure that Coach Hargitt will no longer promote or endorse religion to players.

“A coach cannot be permitted to impose his sectarian beliefs on his athletes,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students should not have to pray to play — and ‘the glory of victory’ belongs to students and the team, not the coach’s religion.”

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including members in Idaho. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, 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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