A public school basketball coach in Michigan has been asked to stop praying with his team after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted his school district.
A district parent informed FFRF that a Wyandot Middle School basketball coach had been leading his students in prayer before basketball games. According to the parent, the coach would have the players gather in a circle, make them hold hands and then say a prayer. When he finished saying his prayer, he would ask any of the players if they wanted to say a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante CH Harootunian sent a letter to Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ronald Roberts urging the district to stop any and all prayers occurring within any school athletic programs.
“Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers,” Harootunian wrote. “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.”
Assistant Superintendent Adam Blanchard sent a letter of response indicating that the district took this issue seriously and that it has taken steps to ensure coaches are not endorsing or joining in on prayer.
The coach, the district wrote, “has been informed that his involvement in this type of religious activity cannot occur during school or a school event.”
FFRF commends the district for quickly taking action to remedy this issue and for working to ensure that all student athletes feel like full and welcome members of the district community. Given that almost two-fifths of younger Americans — those born after 1987 — are nonreligious, this sort of proselytization in schools is not only unconstitutional, but particularly exclusionary.
“We applaud the Chippewa Valley School district for swiftly addressing this complaint,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students in our public schools should never have to pray to play.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,500 members across the country, including more than 800 members in Michigan. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.