Coach Marcus Borden used to bow his head and drop to one knee when his football team prayed. But the U.S. Supreme Court ended that tradition last week when it refused to hear the high school coach’s appeal of a school district ban on employees joining a student-led prayer.
The decision on the case from New Jersey could add another restriction on prayer in schools, advocates on both sides said.
Without comment, the high court refused to reconsider the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that upheld the prohibition.
The district established the ban in 2005 after parents complained that Mr. Borden, a coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, sometimes led prayers at the Friday afternoon team pasta dinner or in the locker room before games. Mr. Borden said he wanted to show respect for the students engaged in prayer by bowing his head silently and dropping to one knee.
The district, Mr. Borden argued, was violating his free-speech rights by ordering him to stop action he called secular signs of respect. After the ban, the coach stood at attention for the remainder of the season while the students prayed.
Judge D. Michael Fisher, writing for the Philadelphia appeals court, said Mr. Borden’s past action of leading the prayers made his head-bowing seem inappropriate. “A reasonable observer would conclude that he is continuing to endorse religion when he bows his head during the pre-meal grace and takes a knee with his team in the locker room while they pray,” Judge Fisher said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of Education Week