A high school in Tecumseh, Okla., is no longer proselytizing football players and students after the Freedom From Religion Foundation took to the field in defense of the U.S. Constitution.
A concerned community member reported to the state/church watchdog that on Aug. 29, Tecumseh High School football players were required to attend a team prayer meeting on the school’s football field while district coaches organized and led prayer at the school-sponsored prayer event. A post on the Tecumseh Savage Football Facebook page confirmed that there was an official team prayer event held to “say a prayer over our players, cheerleaders, band members, students, coaches, and fans. The post includes an image overlaid with a bible verse, “Jesus said to him if you can believe all things are possible to him who believes.” – Mark 9:23.
Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to Tecumseh Public Schools asking that it investigate and take action to make sure coaches and employees no longer lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students or organize team prayer events.
“We write to remind the district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead, organize or participate in prayer or religious events with their teams,” Line emphasized to School Superintendent Robert Kinsey. “Federal courts have specifically held public school coaches’ participation in religious events with their teams is unconstitutional.”
FFRF’s reasoning scored a constitutional touchdown. The Tecumseh superintendent has instructed the removal of a religious message on the school’s official Facebook page, and spoken with football coaches to ensure that prayers are student-led, voluntary and held off district property. In a response from the legal representative for the school district, FFRF was informed that the district agrees that the post and prayer meetings were inappropriate for a public school district. It also explained that coaches will not be involved in prayers, any prayer events should be held off of school property, and the post will be removed.
“No public school athlete should be expected to pray to play,” contends FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We’re pleased the school district has responded with alacrity to educate its staff and provide a lesson on why religious indoctrination and rituals may not be part of school events.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, including members in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.