The four-step process to ban school coaches from praying with their teams

The road that led the South Gibson School Corp. attorney in southwest Indiana on Dec. 13 to issue a letter telling coaches not to pray with their teams has been worn out.

For as long as I have been writing this blog, almost 10 years, I have covered stories in which coaches or public school officials have led, participated in or tacitly approved prayers with their teams. And once someone complains to an atheist and / or “free-thinking” organization, like the Freedom from Religion Foundation or the American Humanist Association, dedicated to ensuring that the border between church and State is not crossed illegally, it starts a whole process that almost always ends with a letter of regret from the school lawyer, while the locals, judging by the reactions I see on social media, cringe at the residents outside who made this possible.

Despite my frequent attempts to explain these situations, I feel – again, judging by the social media comments I see – there is still a lack of understanding as to why prayers during a football game in a public school can suddenly become objectionable, why and how a national organization gets involved and how coaches can invoke their faith without crossing the church-state line. I would like to try to present the process as simply as possible, although I don’t expect people who fervently support prayer in school to listen. Thinking back to my previous articles on this topic, my November 2015 article titled “As Churches Grow More Quietly, Prayers on the Ground Grow Stronger” seems unintentionally prescient about the social tension that has helped to garner intense support from the community. Evangelical Christians to a then joke about a presidential election. candidate named Donald Trump, and why they remain loyal to him.

Either way, here’s how the process works:

STEP ONE: A local person complains to an outside organization

Despite what I’ve read on social media, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its ilk are not nationally looking for prayer coaches and nurseries on the courthouse lawn (this is also a matter of foundation currently underway in Indiana). Instead, these organizations receive tips from local citizens, usually through tip lines set up on their websites.

The defenses I often see for a coach leading or joining their team in prayer (almost always Christian) is that it has been going on for years and no one has ever complained. Well, a big reason no one has ever complained is that the person speaking has to live with everyone, and that person (and, by extension, their family and friends) is likely to suffer. repercussions for complaining. So the advice lines also serve to allow someone in the area to remain anonymous while letting the big guys, the bad guys and the strangers be the heaviest, because although every prayer battle I’ve covered begins with a local complaint, anger is always spent on foreigners putting their names on the complaint.

STEP TWO: The external organization decides whether it wishes to take charge of the complaint

Atheist organizations have not published an official tally of the number of complaints they receive, but it is clear that they do not act on all of them. After all, there has to be a clear constitutional violation for an answer to even be drawn in the first place.

STEP THREE: The outside organization sends a letter to the local school district, outlining the constitutional violation in question

The letter the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to South Gibson is not a hyperbolic “Dear Hateful Christian” fire-spitting note about how-you-dare-bring-religion-to-schools. The letter is a fairly standard version of what she sends to any school district she faces.

The letter notes that the organization is responding to a community complaint (in this case, a local who sent a photo of a Facebook post that appeared to show coaches and players praying together on a soccer field after a match. Gibson Southern High). He cites numerous Supreme Court cases (in this letter, eight of them) that cite the establishment clause of the First Amendment to prevent religious activities led or approved by adults in public schools. It also details the majority opinions of specific cases particularly relevant to the current situation. Finally, it requires the school district to send in writing how the situation will be resolved in order to satisfy the establishment clause.

It is interesting to note that the letter does NOT state that legal action will be taken if the school does not respond at the will of the foundation. (You can read the letter in full here.) But that’s not necessary because of …

STEP FOUR: After a period of community grinding, the school stops the activity in question

The letter the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent to South Gibson put the school district in a bind. On the one hand, the community as a whole clearly wants coaches to pray (at least pray to a Christian God) when and where they want. On the other hand, the school prosecutor knows full well that the district is in a legal bind. Maybe they could try to continue and risk legal action, and given the cracks more conservative courts have opened in the church-state line over the past 40 years, maybe the district could win. . But it is a dangerous and very expensive bet.

In South Gibson’s case, it’s not necessarily clear that the adults praying with the football players were coaches, school lawyer J. Robert Kinkle said in his response to the foundation. However, he also clarified that the school district would legally comply with what the foundation established. Specifically, he wrote, that school staff cannot interfere with student-led prayer, but school staff also cannot lead a religious activity and demand participation. to this one.

The beauty of this process is that everyone at the local level has the chance to have their backs covered. Thanks to the involvement of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the person who complained is never revealed, and the school district can claim he was overthrown by atheists with big pockets and outside the l State that does not respect the values ​​of the community, and so stay in the good graces of those people that I see on social networks complaining about atheists with big pockets and out of state. (I’m not saying South Gibson is doing this – but they can.) Meanwhile, the foundation is able to enforce the establishment clause without a long and costly legal battle. Everybody wins !

(By the way, if you’re a public school coach and want more tips on how to keep the law with your faith, read this previous article I wrote on the topic.)

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