A prominent secularist group has called on an Indiana school district to conduct an investigation into its high school football program after a head coach was seen praying with team members.
In a letter addressed to the superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) called attention to an alleged constitutional violation that occurred when F.J. Reitz High School head coach Andy Hape prayed with students following a game with Mater Dei High School.
"A concerned district community member contacted us to report that F.J. Reitz High School personnel, including head football coach Andy Hape, prayed with student athletes after a game against Mater Dei High School on Oct. 13," the letter, dated Nov. 20, read.
"It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students. We are writing to request assurances that this constitutional violation will not recur in the future," it continued.
The Wisconsin-based organization further noted that the Supreme Court had repeatedly ruled against school-sponsored prayer in public schools.
The letter pointed to the Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick case in 2008, in which the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the coach's participation in prayers before games was unconstitutional.
According to the FFRF, the court also rejected the coach's argument that the school district's policy of prohibiting employees from participating in prayer with students was a violation of their right to free speech.
Christian News Network reported that the post-game prayer came into the attention of the FFRF after a picture of Hape was published in Evansville's local newspaper, the Evansville Courier & Press. In the picture, the football coach is seen gathered with his team after the game, with the heads bowed in prayer.
The community member contacted, who informed the FFRF about the matter, claimed that in addition to praying with students, Hape and his assistant coaches also regularly promotes religion to students.
The secularist group contended that Hape's act was unconstitutional because he is endorsing and promoting religion while acting in his official capacity as a school district representative.
The FFRF, which boasts of about 30,000 members across the U.S., including 450 in Indiana, urged the school district to investigate the matter and ensure that no coaches will pray with team members in the future.
"Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment," the letter concluded.
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