FFRF chastises Fla. school district for football coach’s team prayer

A high school football team on the field praying in a circle

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Levy County School District, based in Bronson, Fla., to end coach-led prayers.

FFRF has been informed that Robby Pruitt, Williston High School’s football coach, and his staff have been using their positions to push personal religious beliefs on players. The coaching staff reportedly prays with students at games and other team events. A news segment a few months ago showed Pruit and staff praying with players.

The national state/church watchdog is asking the district to immediately investigate and ensure that Pruitt and his staff cease using their authority as public school employees to proselytize students.

“Coach Pruitt must be directed to cease praying with his team,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Levy County School District Superintendent Christopher A. Cowart. “We further request that all district coaches be reminded that they may not push their personal religious beliefs onto students while acting in their official capacity as school employees.”

It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or religious instruction, FFRF emphasizes. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools, rulings that were not voided by last year’s Bremerton decision involving a coach supposedly praying solo on the 50-yard line after school games. Public school employees are also not to direct students to partake in religious activities or participate in religious activities of their students. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a coach’s attempts to engage in religious activities with players at team events were unconstitutional because the religious promotion took place “during school-controlled, curriculum-related activities that members of the [athletic] team are required to attend. During these activities, [district] coaches and other school employees are present as representatives of the school and their actions are representative of [district] policies.”

FFRF is insisting that the school system protect the First Amendment rights of the students and work to keep Pruitt and all athletic staff members from forcing religion onto their players.

“No student athlete should have to pray to play,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The football coach’s job is to coach students in football — not about the tenets of Christianity.”

You can read the full FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 2,000 members in Florida and a chapter in the state, the Central Florida Freethought Community. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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