Indiana Public School District Bans Coaches and Staff from Participating in Team Prayers Led by Students After Complaint from Atheist Group

Coaches and players from Gibson Southern High School and Reitz Memorial High School pray on the field after their game on Nov. 2 in Fort Branch, Indiana. | PHOTO: FFRF.ORG

An Indiana public school district says that starting in January 2019, coaches and staff will be barred from participating in team prayers led by students.

Football coaches at Gibson Southern High School are to be told that they can no longer participate in prayers with their team after a complaint was filed with the South Gibson School Corporation by one of the nation’s leading atheist groups.

Superintendent Stacey Humbaugh received a letter on Nov. 30 from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation informing her that a community member had voiced concern about coaches praying with the student-athletes following Gibson Southern’s game against Reitz Memorial High School on Nov. 2.

The letter, sent by FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne, included a photo of the prayer that was posted to social media and shows coaches and players from both teams praying on the field after the game. The coaches are seen bowing their heads and placing their hands on students’ shoulders.

Jayne argues that the coaches’ participation in the prayer was a “constitutional violation.”

“It is unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students,” Jayne wrote. “We are writing to request assurances that this constitutional violation will not reoccur.”

Jayne relied on the 2008 Third Circuit ruling of Borden v. School District of Township of East Brunswick, where the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that coach-organized prayer was unconstitutional.

“In that case, the court stated that the coach’s involvement in the prayer by ‘taking a knee’ and ‘bowing his head’ during the prayers, even when student-led, ‘would lead a reasonable observer to conclude he was endorsing religion,’” Jayne wrote.

The Third Circuit ruled that if a coach “manifests approval and solidarity with the student religious exercises, they cross the line between respect for religion and the endorsement of religion.’”

It should be noted, though, that the Third Circuit’s jurisdiction is over district courts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands, not Indiana.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith