A football coach’s recurring recitation of the Lord's Prayer at football games is out of bounds, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is notifying a Colorado school district.
West Grand High School head coach Chris Brown has been requiring his team captain to lead a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer after football games. FFRF has sent a letter to the superintendent of West Grand School District asking him to investigate this violation of the Constitution.
It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or instruct others to lead team prayer, FFRF emphasizes. As FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line points out to Superintendent Darrin Peppard: “The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.”
Even participation in a student-led prayer can be considered endorsement of religion by public school workers, as decided in the Borden case (2009). The court stated: “If while acting in their official capacities, [school district] employees join hands in a prayer circle or otherwise manifest approval and solidarity with the student religious exercises, they cross the line between respect for religion and the endorsement of religion.” Coach Brown is blatantly endorsing religion through the recitation of a prayer.
Brown’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee. Certainly, when acting in his official capacity as the coach of the football team, he represents the school and the team. Therefore, he cannot organize or advocate for his students to lead a team prayer.
The court in Borden also rejected the coach’s argument that the school district’s policy of prohibiting its employees from engaging in prayer with students violated the employees’ right to free speech. In fact, the court found that the school district had a right to adopt guidelines restricting such activity because of its concern about potential First Amendment violations.
FFRF is asking the West Grand School District to commence an investigation into the alleged complaint and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers from occurring within district athletic programs.
“Football coaches need to know they can’t punt on the Constitution to promote a sectarian religious agenda,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
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. It has more than 35,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including over 1,000 members in Colorado, with chapters in Denver and Colorado Springs.