By guest blogger Gina Cairney
Individual prayers can continue after games, but the tradition of praying as a team at Lahser High School, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is no more.
The football team’s postgame prayers, an 11-year tradition, set off alarm bells among some parents who filed a complaint to the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the prayers were school sponsored, according the news site Click On Detroit.
But prayers aren’t banned outright.
Athletes who want to pray, can do so on their own time, Click On Detroit reports, after the team meeting.
“This whole issue rests on two boundary lines,” Bloomfield Hills Schools Superintendent Rob Glass told the Oakland Press, “We do not want to establish or endorse prayer or any religion, nor do we want to inhibit anyone’s right to pray.”
The family (which the Oakland Press and Click On Detroit do not name), went to the ACLU in February with concerns that the school’s football coach, Dan Loria, was leading the students in prayer.
An investigation by the school revealed that Loria did not lead the prayers, but took full responsibility of the issue.
“By me being present, I was encouraging it,” he told the paper, “This happened because of me and I had to wake up.”
Reactions to the incident have been mixed. One student told Click On Detroit that it was “right that they shouldn’t be forced to do it as a team.”
Another student emphasized the importance of rituals, that they’re “an important part of the game and staying focused and performing your best,” and this loss of tradition could have an impact on the team’s performance on the field.
The issue of whether religious activities are allowed at public schools and school-sponsored events is a delicate one. Where one group may see an infringement on their rights to religion and speech, another may see it as government support for a specific type of religion over others.
In May, the Kountze (Texas) Independent School District filed a notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Beaumont, Tex., asking for clarification on a judge’s ruling that upheld the rights of Kountze High School cheerleaders to display Christian-themed banners at football games, according to the Student Press Law Center.
District Judge Steven Thomas ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause didn’t prohibit the cheerleaders from using Bible verses on their banners at school sporting events, but didn’t specify if the use of such banners was protected free speech.
“If there is a free speech right, whose is it?” said Thomas Brandt, an attorney representing the school district.
Brandt argued that the right doesn’t go to the individual cheerleaders because “it is our banner at our event and they’re in uniform representing the school.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.