A national atheist group is demanding a Missouri school district investigate two high school coaches who allegedly have prayed with players – an action the group calls illegal and unconstitutional.
Head football coach Jeff Wallace and assistant football coach David Stucky of Cameron High School in Cameron, Mo., have prayed with players and discussed Bible verses with them before and after games, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which also says the coaches have led players in a postgame prayer at the 50-yard line.
The foundation, which represents atheists, agnostics and “freethinkers,” sent a letter to Superintendent Matt Robinson in late October, urging him to conduct an investigation.
“Coach Wallace’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” the letter says. “... When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer or worship, he effectively endorses religion on the District’s behalf.”
The letter points to Supreme Court cases that have struck down school-sponsored prayer.
Parents of several players, though, told local television stations that they support the coaches’ actions. The parents also said the allegations aren’t accurate. The 50-yard line gathering, parent Jeff Speer said, is voluntary and doesn’t involve school-led prayer.
“They just say, ‘Okay, everybody bow your heads,’ and they have a moment of silence and everyone does their own individual prayer,” Speer told KCTV. “Other teams join. We’ve had almost every team we play this year come out, join on their own.”
Cameron resident Tim Harrell, whose son played before graduating in 2015, also backed the coaches.
“It’s sad that they’re coming down on [the coaches] because Cameron hasn’t had a good team in a few years,” Harrell told Fox 4 in Kansas City. “I think [they’re] building character among the boys.”
Robinson, the superintendent, released a statement to the media. It read: “The District will be performing an investigation into the allegations and concerns raised by the FFRF, pursuant to District’s non-discrimination policy and policy regarding religious expression, to determine whether District policy has been violated. The District will also take immediate interim measures to protect students from further possible violations of District policy. No local complaints were brought to the attention of administration of the school district.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/J. Bryson
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.