FFRF makes media splash with Ohio football prayer objection

Kirkland Local Schools

A Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint against unconstitutional prayer at an Ohio high school football game has been garnering substantial media attention.

A concerned parent contacted the state/church watchdog about joint prayer that the Ottawa-Glandorf High School and Kirtland High football teams engaged in after a game they played in November. The Kirtland football players were told by their coaches to go to the middle of the field and take a knee. Coaches also participated in the prayer with bowed heads and hands on players, as can be seen in the screenshot above. It has also been reported that Kirtland head coach Tiger LaVerde leads his team in the Lord’s prayer before every game either in the locker room or the end zone.

Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion, FFRF reminded the school district.

“Federal courts have held that public school athletic coaches cannot organize or participate in prayer with their teams,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Kirtland Local Schools Superintendent Chad Van Arnhem. “In these cases, courts struck down the school-sponsored prayer because it violated the Establishment Clause obligation to religious neutrality.” 

Nonreligious Americans make up the fastest growing segment of this nation’s population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christians, including the more than one in four Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated. School-sponsored activities must be welcoming to students of all beliefs, FFRF emphasized.

FFRF’s exhortation has created massive media waves in the area.

“One parent has sent their complaint to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), saying pregame and postgame prayers are a step too far,” a local TV station has reported. “‘The football coach knew prayer was going on – he was leading prayer,’ says Karen Heineman, a legal fellow with FFRF. ‘What does the school know? Does the football coach understand that he’s acting in an official capacity as a government official essentially?’”

The news segment goes on to mention FFRF in some detail. And it is far from the only one.

“A public high school in Northeast Ohio is getting a warning about what one organization calls constitutional violations for prayer before and after football games,” states a prominent story on another TV station. “It was prompted when a parent of a Kirtland High School football player filed a First Amendment complaint with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF).”

A local publication similarly reports, “It was after the post-playoff game prayer that the parent, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal to his agnostic son, a football player, notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based organization that promotes the separation of church and state.”

A radio station and a blog site also carried stories on the controversy and FFRF’s key role.

FFRF, which has sent a recent email follow-up to the school district, appreciates that so many are taking note of its constitutional intervention — and hopes that this will make Kirtland Local Schools rein in the coach.

“Official prayers — either on the field or in the locker room — have no place in public schools,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Coach LaVerde needs to be told to cut it out.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including almost 1,000 members and two chapters 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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