The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a strong letter of complaint to the interim president of Penn State University over the “ostentatious pregame Christian prayer” at the Nov. 12 game between Penn State and Nebraska. The game was the first since disgraced former Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky, a churchgoer, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys. Fallout after revelations of a coverup has led to dismissal of football coach Joe Paterno, firing of the school president and placement on administrative leave of Assistant Coach Mike McQueary.
Penn State Coach Tom Bradley said publicly “it would be a great idea” that Nebraska Assistant Coach Ron Brown would pray to Jesus at the game. Brown intoned: “Father, you would say grace and forgiveness in the lives of all of those involved.” At a press conference, he added: “The bible says to all of us of sin and falsehood of His glory, not one of us could stand before God. He forgives us. He restores us. This community, this university, and every one of us needs restoration.”
“The inappropriate prayer spectacle on Saturday involved all coaches and their entire public university teams participating in Christian prayer in the middle of the football field with 100,000 stadium spectators watching and millions of television viewers,” wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor on behalf of FFRF. “This government prayer service was deeply offensive to many university students, parents, faculty, boosters and spectators.
“Our membership is distressed to see a [de facto] public university in the midst of a national scandal wrap itself in piety. Clearly, we need eyes wide open, not further demonstrations of blind faith and heads bowed in submission to misused authority,” she added.
In addition to the offense against the Constitution, which the letter detailed, FFRF objected to the offensive prayer content: “It should not be necessary to spell out why it is impermissible for a public university serving Christians, non-Christians and nonbelievers alike to characterize a school football game as being played to honor Jesus. Given the timing and context of the game, the long-winded sermon by Brown that his god ‘forgives us,’ no matter the ‘sin,’ is deeply disrespectful to the victims in this far-reaching scandal.
“Brown downplayed the egregious nature of the allegations and cover-up by saying ‘every one of us needs restoration.’ Far from being appropriate or ‘unifying,’ his message of salvation through Jesus was divisive and insulting. Brown’s evangelical message is one which many players, students, faculty, parents and boosters do not subscribe to, nor should they be expected to show obeisance to his or Bradley’s personal religious views.”
FFRF chided interim President Rodney Erickson for his “resounding support” for the prayer.
The Nittany Lions lost 17-14.