Oklahoma school district launches investigation on pre-game prayer following complaint from atheist group

(Pixabay/bpcraddock)A school district has launched an investigation on a high school football coach after he was seen leading a prayer before a game.

A school district in Oklahoma has launched an investigation into an incident involving a high school football coach who was reportedly seen praying with his student-athletes before a game earlier this month.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a complaint letter to Norman Public Schools after a parent reached out to the group and showed them a video where the coach leads a prayer and addresses the "Lord" for wisdom prior to a game held on Nov. 3.

In the letter, the secularist group contended that it is illegal and unconstitutional for a school district employee to lead or participate in a student prayer.

"When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district's behalf," it stated, as reported by Fox 25.

FFRF, however, noted that it is not illegal for players to pray before a game if it is "100 percent initiated" by the students.

"We ask that Norman Public Schools commence an immediate investigation into the complaint alleged and take action to stop any and all staff-led prayers occurring within district athletic programs. Please inform us in writing of the steps the district is taking to remedy this serious violation of the First Amendment," the letter continued.

The complaint cited several Supreme Court cases, including the Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe case in which the court ruled that school policies allowing student-led and student-initiated prayer over a loudspeaker before the start of football games are unconstitutional.

Norman Public Schools officials said that they did not learn about the complaint until they were asked by a media outlet about it. NPS Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations Alesha Leemaster told The Norman Transcript last week that the school is now investigating the complaint.

The administrator's handbook of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) states that member schools are not allowed to use a public address system at an OSSAA event site for a public prayer.

However, it noted that schools may "permit a moment of silence prior to the start of all activities, permit persons at the event to reflect, mediate, pray or engage in any other silent activity."

The FFRF lodged a similar complaint in Georgia last month after John Small, a football coach at East Coweta High School, was seen participating in a team prayer prior to a game.

In response to the complaint, the Coweta County School System called on its lawyer to issue a guidance forbidding school representatives to participate in a student-initiated or student-led prayer while acting in their official capacity.

Small, however, insisted that coaches do not have to "flee" the scene of a team prayer. "If my head is bowed, nobody can tell me what I am thinking. I am not leading the prayer. I am there supporting my kids. Whether I am praying or not, nobody can say I am or I ain't," he said.

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