ACLU Letter Prompts High School Coaches to Discontinue Unconstitutional Prayer

January 19, 2005

DETROIT – After learning that a public school wrestling coach was praying with his team at sporting events, the ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to the school’s administration urging that the unconstitutional practice of school-sponsored prayer be immediately discontinued.

Less than twenty-four hours after hearing from the ACLU, Sandra Harris, Superintendent of the Lincoln Consolidated Schools, responded via e-mail stating, “The Athletic Director has been directed to tell the wrestling coach that he must ‘cease and desist’ in leading the team in prayer.” The email also indicated that the directive would apply to all coaches in the district.

“We’re very pleased that the school responded so quickly,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Even when students are told that the prayer is voluntary, students don’t like to feel like outsiders and coach-led team prayer is inherently coercive.”

Courts have repeatedly ruled that a school official, teacher or coach may not constitutionally promote religion or prayer in school regardless of whether the students believe they have the option to refrain from participating. In 1963, the Supreme Court struck down a school’s bible reading program as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion even though the student participation was voluntary.  (School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203).  More recently, the courts held that it is unconstitutional for a coach, or other school official, to initiate or lead a team in prayer or ask a team member to do so, before, during or after a public or school-sponsored athletic activity or event.  (Duncanville Independent School District v. John Doe, 994 F.2d 160 (5th Cir. 1993); Jager v. Douglas County School Dist., 862 F.2d 824 (11th Cir. 1989). 

To read a copy of the ACLU letter, click here or go to:

http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/attachments/prayingcoach.pdf

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