A prominent atheist group is declaring victory in Kansas, after claiming to have thwarted coaches’ ability to pray with their team. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which purports to be “protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church” by being a voice for atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism, sent a letter last month to two Kansas school districts saying it is illegal for public school coaches to lead their teams in prayer.
The letters to Cheylin USD 103 and Weskan Schools USD 242 came after the group obtained a picture of basketball coaches from the opposing high schools seemingly participating in a group prayer with students.
“It is our understanding that following the basketball game on January 31, 2017, the Ceylon High School boys basketball team and the Weskan High School boys basketball team joined together for a prayer at center court,” the letter from Christopher Line, a legal fellow at the foundation, reads. “We understand that coaches from both teams participated in the prayer… It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer.”
Read the entire letter HERE.
Line went on to cite a bevy of Supreme Court cases that “struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” including the court’s decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, when it determined that a school district’s policy of allowing student-led, student-initiated prayer over an intercom at football games was unconstitutional.
He also included a photo (below) that he says supports the group’s claim.
According to The Kansas City Star, Weskan superintendent Dave Hale refuted the charges, saying that while the coaches were in the circle with their heads respectfully bowed, they did not initiate the prayer.
“They are misleading you,” Hale said. “It was 100% student driven. I will tell my coaches to not be in the vicinity in the future but never have my coaches instigated, encouraged, or led these prayers.”
Regardless, in a press release dated June 22, 2017, FFRF says that it received assurances from both Hale and fellow superintendent Allaire Homburg that, going forward, coaches will be advised not to participate in or encourage post-game prayer.
Homburg reportedly told the group: “You have my assurance that this will not happen again.”
“It’s our purpose to point out constitutional violations to public officials,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in the release. “It’s especially gratifying when they respond so decisively in the right manner.”
Coaches around the state told the Star that they’ve learned the hard way over the years that it is better to be safe than sorry when it come to engaging in any sort of religious activity, even if it is student led.
“It’s been a part of (athletics), and there’s ways you can go about it and there’s ways you can’t go about it just because of the rules that are in place,” football coach Brandon Clark said. “We don’t all have the same faith and beliefs, and as a coach you can’t put your faith or beliefs on your players, but it (prayer) can be student led.”
Wichita-based track and field coach Ron Russell seemingly agreed, saying that while you must respect people’s individual beliefs, the issue is largely seen as a non-starter.
“Most of the coaches and people I’ve talked to have been very in favor of the prayer,” he said. “I don’t think it hurts anybody by having a simple prayer.”
H/T: Kansas City Star