An Illinois public school district has reportedly banned its coaches from leading or participating in prayers. The move comes after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates separation of church and state, filed complaints with the district, holding that the employee-endorsed prayers were unconstitutional.
“The basketball coaches’ conduct is unconstitutional because they endorse and promote religion when acting in their official capacities as school district representatives,” said Ryan Jayne, a representative of FRFF in a statement on its website. “When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the district’s behalf.”
The Dietrich School District issued a memo on Feb. 16 emphasizing that it would prohibit the practice in the future to comply with federal law.
“We, as a school district, absolutely have a respect for religion, but by federal law, cannot endorse it,” reads the memo. “Therefore, when our students choose to participate or initiate a student-led prayer, our employees may not participate in any way. Please remove yourself from the activity so that it cannot be assumed that you are initiating, organizing, endorsing or participating in prayer.”
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The FFRF’s complaints against the school district come after a 1962 Supreme Court decision that bars government organizations from writing prayers for students to recite, reports Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Public schools, as government organizations, are legally prohibited from endorsing student prayers. The controversial restriction on prayer in public schools is facing increasing opposition.
A bill introduced to the Maryland State Assembly on Feb. 26 would reportedly emphasize the right of students to pray openly at school events, reports WBAL-TV.
Republican Delegate Ric Metzgar, the sponsor of the bill, said he wants to provide Christian students with the freedom to openly pray and express their faith at public schools.
“I believe we have a lot of young people today that are Christian young people that would really like to pray and express their faith,” said Metzgar.
The ACLU rebuked public schools’ attempts to sponsor prayers.
“The court is very clear that even though you say it’s voluntary, when it becomes a school-sponsored event, you are compelling students to listen to a religious message,” said Sara Love of the ACLU, reports WBAL-TV.