By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
February 6, 2014
MOORESVILLE — Mooresville High School football players, whose coach came under attack from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for praying with the team, say they’ll take the lead in prayer from now on.
“FFRF sparked something new,” Dallas Jackson, a 16-year-old wide receiver, told the media. “And now we’re even more determined to lead the prayers ourselves.”
That’s exactly what should happen, said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, clarifying how the Constitution has been interpreted.
“If students are leading prayer at these athletic events in conjunction with other student, non-religious speech, then if students are prohibited from prayer — an expression of religious speech — such a prohibition would be a violation of their First Amendment Free Speech rights,” he said.
“In other words, the students are in a different position than the coach. Students don’t lose their rights to religious speech once they enter the school house door.”
Blue Devils Coach Hal Capps raised the ire of the Wisconsin-based atheist group, who wrote a letter to the school complaining about his prayers and the fact that he discussed his faith with students.
“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” the group’s attorney, Patrick Elliott, wrote.
“It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion.”
School Superintendent Mark Edwards told the press that he addressed the issue with the coach, telling him the prayers were out of bounds. School system officials also clarified that Capps’ participation in a baptism, which the FFRF had also attacked, was not a team event.
“The baptism was NOT conducted during school hours or on school property. The coach was invited to the baptism,” wrote Public Information Officer Tanae McLean in an e-mail to the Christian Action League.
She said the district had not received a complaint about the issue from a student or parent, but instead got a letter from FFRF in the fall of 2012. The letter included a link to a YouTube video of a football team in prayer on a field, however it was not Mooresville High’s team. The school district responded, pointing out that fact, and heard nothing else until October of 2013, when the organization sent a second letter apologizing for its error, but once again raising concerns about prayer on the football field by a Mooresville High employee.
Dr. Creech said it’s ridiculous for the FFRF to challenge Capps’ right to worship and attend the church or baptism event of his choice. He said even the prayer is not truly unconstitutional, but violates how the Constitution has been interpreted.
“It’s unfortunate that the coach’s actions are deemed worthy of this kind of censure. In my estimation, there is nothing unconstitutional about what he’s doing. But unfortunately, because of erroneous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, unless the prayers are student-initiated and carried out by the students themselves, the coach’s leading in prayer may be seen as a prayer officially sanctioned by the school system, and that is what the High Court has wrongly argued is an establishment of religion,” he explained. “It’s wrong — but it’s the law of the land.”
A bill supported by the Christian Action League and passed by the N.C. Senate last session would help clarify students’ rights to pray in school and at the same time prohibit invocations officially sanctioned by schools in accordance with the Supreme Court rulings. It would further require school employees to show respect for student-led prayer and allow them to adopt a respectful posture.
“It is troubling that such a law is necessary, but it truly is. Too often, there’s a complaint from atheists or secularists, and the reaction is an extreme chilling effect where faculty began to believe it is unlawful to bow their heads or show any tolerance of religious speech,” Dr. Creech said. “Our hope is that the House will take up this legislation and pass it, so that those in our state’s public school system will have a better understanding of the parameters.”
That is also a goal of the Christian Action League’s “Students’ Rights in Public Schools” seminar, which has been held in a number of locations across the state.
The seminar addresses everything from Bible distribution and faith-based student clubs, to religious-themed T-shirts or jewelry and graduation prayer. Its purpose is to equip students with the information they need to confidently take their faith with them to school without running afoul of the law.
“Just as school officials cannot press their beliefs on students, they also cannot suppress students’ rights to free speech and that includes speech about their faith,” Rev. Creech said. “If students are allowed to speak at an event on any secular matter, but then prohibited to use religious speech, that would demonstrate hostility to religion, which is equally unconstitutional.”
To schedule a Students’ Rights in Public Schools Seminar in your area, contact the Christian Action League at (919) 787-0606.