A revered high school baseball coach in Oklahoma who has successfully led his team to victory in 10 state championships over a 32-year career is drawing the ire of atheist activists who are accusing him of leading his players in illegal public prayer.
Coach Larry Turner, 59, who was named 2013 national baseball coach of the year by the National Federation of State High School Associations, joins other coaching staff in regularly leading invocations, according to a story published by Greater Tulsa Reporter Newspapers this week.
Atheists believe that this action is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, as Turner is head coach at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, a public institution. The coach’s position at the school, they argue, precludes him from leading prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, sent a letter of complaint April 28 to the Superintendent Clark Ogilvie of Owasso Public Schools, calling the situation “a serious constitutional violation.”
“It is our information and understanding that the baseball team at Owasso High School has — in the past — engaged in pre-game prayers,” the letter reads. “It is our further understanding that the team has been led in group prayers by the team’s head coach, Larry Turner, and other assistant coaches.”
The atheist group is asking that the district investigate and immediately halt any coach-led prayers that might be continuing.
“That single line is an admission that Turner is breaking the law in the process of coaching his team,” atheist blogger Hemant Mehta wrote of the newspaper’s prayer coverage. “If students want to pray on their own, it’s fine. But coaches cannot lead those prayers.”
In addition to the prayer mention, the story published in the Greater Tulsa Reporter Newspapers highlighted some of Turners expectations and standards for his players.
Looking to build the character of the young men he leads, Turner takes the team into the community to visit veterans, participate in reading programs with small children, and support the Special Olympics, among other activities.
“We get out and do things beyond just showing up and playing baseball,” Turner said. “We want to make our community and our school proud that they’re associated with us or that we’re associated with them.”
Read more about Turner here.
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