Just days after a public school football coach in Arizona said he was fired for refusing to tell his team members to stop praying, another coach at a different school in the state has been suspended for praying with his team.
Head varsity coach Tom Brittain prayed with players at Tempe Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Tempe, Arizona, leading to concerns among school officials over the separation of church and state, KPHO-TV reported.
Dr. David Baum, the school's headmaster, responded by suspending Brittain, who has also taught at the school for the past 17 years, for two games over the perceived First Amendment violation.
"He is a man who likes to pray and I don't object to that. Just, he can't do that with our students. That's the only prohibition," Baum told KPHO-TV. "He directed students to lead a prayer and he joined the students in that prayer and did so in view of everyone."
The headmaster said that he believes his decision to suspend Brittain is an act that helps preserve the right of students who might choose not to participate in religious expression.
He also said that Brittain participated in a team revision of a staff handbook earlier this year that covered the inability of staff to participate in student prayer, according to KFYI radio.
The coach's punishment sparked a divide among parents and the community. While some believe that Baum's prayer was inappropriate and contend that he has urged students to invoke God for quite some time, others deemed the decision "outrageous."
"I think it's outrageous," local resident Keith Wibel said. "Ray Rice gets two games for cold-cocking his fiancé and Tom Brittain gets two games for praying."
Baum said, though, that Brittain understands the punishment and is in agreement with it.
This news comes just days after another public school football coach claimed he was terminated from his position for allowing players at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Arizona, to pray before and after games.
Gary Weiss, formerly a volunteer coach with the district, said that he was given an ultimatum by school officials: tell players to stop praying or lose his position. He refused and opted for the latter option, according to KVOA-TV.
“My concern is the rights of the kids to do what is their right to do,” Weiss told the outlet.