Legendary high school football coach Leon McCoy has spoken every year for at least a decade at Winfield High School’s graduation ceremony in West Virginia, but that long-held tradition has now come to a close.
McCoy, who is retiring this year, wasn’t invited back to address graduates at this year’s June 5 ceremony due to the religious themes in his past speeches.
“I’m disappointed and I hate to go out this way,” McCoy told WCHS-TV.
The school district said officials received complaints about mentions of God in the coach’s past speeches, with critics charging that his remarks violate the separation of church and state, according to WCHS.
McCoy’s past graduation speeches included references to prayer and scripture — something that the district says is illegal.
It’s unclear exactly just how religious his words were, though McCoy routinely said the following during each speech: “If I could pray I would ask the Lord to bless each and every senior.”
“We got some complaints filed last year and I forwarded those to the school just so they would be aware,” Putnam County School Superintendent Chuck Hatfield told West Virginia’s MetroNews. “Over that period of time I guess the school decided that Mr. McCoy was retiring and it was time to put that whole thing to a close.”
In a statement published on the Putnam County Schools website, Hatfield said public schools must comply with the law, regardless of whether people agree with it.
“This decision is not about anyone’s personal thoughts, feelings or beliefs,” he said. “In 2000, the U. S. Supreme Court stated that prayer at a function organized by a school, even when designated as voluntary, is a constitutional violation.”
In the same release, McCoy said that his desire is to “do what is right.” While Christians have been able to express their views in public venues in the past, he said the law has changed.
“If we are breaking the law, we have to make adjustments. This is not a decision of the board; this is the law,” he said. “I hope people out there will take my lead.”
McCoy told media outlets that he holds no ill will toward administrators and that the ceremony should be about the kids, not about him.
It is unclear whether he was invited to speak without making religious references. Calls to the district were not returned to TheBlaze.
Some students expressed frustration over the decision to ax the coach’s speech, launching a petition in an effort to reverse the decision. So far, those actions haven’t been fruitful.
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