FFRF ends Ohio high school coach-sponsored prayer

An Ohio public high school football coach has stopped praying with players after the Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened on behalf of the Constitution.

According to a concerned community member, the head coach of the Liberty-Benton High School football team was requiring players to lead prayers at team meals, leading students in the Lord’s Prayer before games and leading students in post-game prayer.

The coach’s conduct was unconstitutional because he endorsed and promoted religion while he was acting in his official capacity, FFRF emphasized. The state/church watchdog reminded the school district that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer or instruct others to lead team prayer.

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Liberty-Benton Local Schools Superintendent Mark Kowalski. “In each of these cases, the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

FFRF asked the district to take immediate action to stop any school-sponsored prayers from occurring within any district athletic programs — and that had the desired effect. Kowalski wrote back to FFRF that he will be meeting with various faculty and coaches to “discuss the sensitivities surrounding school employees being involved in prayer with students on school grounds and on school time.”

FFRF is always glad to provide a playbook for constitutionally correct action.

“We appreciate that the district has taken steps to protect students from religious proselytization and coercion by their coach,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Athletes shouldn’t be forced into a situation of ‘pray to play.’”

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,000 members and a chapter in Ohio. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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