Football players at Cape Henlopen High School in Delaware are changing their postgame rituals after their coaches were banned from praying with them, but the players themselves refuse to stop praying.
After the Cape Gazette sports editor Dave Frederick snapped a photo of head coach Bill Collick praying with his players, several people reported the image to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
"He's got his hands on players and he's bowing his head and he's participating in a prayer circle with students," said Elizabeth Cavell, an FFRF staff attorney. Cavell wrote a letter to Cape Henlopen School District superintendent Robert S. Fulton demanding that the coaches cease praying with his players immediately.
The letter read, in part, "Our objection to that is it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to say that public school districts and their employees cannot advance or endorse religion while acting in their official capacity.”
Fulton responded by saying, "I can assure you that our employees, including coaches, will be reminded of laws involving the Separation of Church and State and will respond accordingly so that an objective/reasonable observer will not perceive their actions as endorsing religion in the future.”
In more pragmatic terms, this means that coaches will now step away when the players pray in their huddle. "We're satisfied with that," Cavell said. "We're expecting that staff, including coaches, are not going to be participating in prayers with the students in the future.”
Collick, a 40-year coaching veteran, was taken aback by the criticism, but plans on respecting the decision. "We will continue to move forward and be about respect and do the things we know that good citizens and good people need to do," he said.
Though FFRF was able to change the team’s ritual, Cavell believes it’s an uphill battle on a national level.
"The case law is quite settled, but that doesn't mean it's not a very, very, very common violation," she said. "It's reported to us every single week from every part of the country. It is a really, really common legal violation. Religion in public-school sports is a big problem, and we hear about it all the time."