The atheist activist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, wants an Indiana school district to investigate a high school football coach who appeared to pray with his players — but the school district doesn’t appear to be caving to the group’s demands.
Reitz High School coach Andy Hape was photographed last month by local newspaper the Courier & Press with his head bowed and eyes closed as players at the Evansville school gathered around him with some placing their hands on his shoulders, the Courier & Press reported.
The caption read, “Reitz Head Coach Andy Hape prays with his team after their 49-46 win over the Mater Dei Wildcats.”
What else did the Freedom From Religion Foundation say?
- The FFRF said Hape’s behavior was a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment,” the paper reported, adding that the atheist group sent a letter to the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. last week saying it’s “illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students.”
How did the school district respond?
- A letter to the FFRF from the district’s lawyer said the district “has not and will not engage in ‘unconstitutional’ conduct as you allege. It will, however, respect its students’ First Amendment rights to engage in student initiated, student led prayer.”
- Superintendent Dave Smith said as much to WEVV-TV: “Yeah, our coach was there supporting his players. That’s what we expect, and that’s what we love about our coaches and all of our employees. They have every right to stand behind our employees, our students, and our student athletes.”
- Smith added to the station that he reminds coaches every year that student-led prayer is OK.
How did the FFRF learn about the photo?
- An unidentified local resident saw the photo in the Courier & Press and told the FFRF about it, adding that Hape and several assistant coaches regularly promote religion to students, the paper reported.
TheBlaze on Thursday didn’t immediately hear back from the Freedom From Religion Foundation after a request for comment on the district’s response letter.
The FFRF has lodged similar complaints this fall against another high school football coach as well as a high school marching band:
- A “concerned local community member” told the FFRF that a Georgia high school football coach “had made it a habit to pray with his team,” which prompted an FFRF complaint letter. But after the controversy hit, prayer among students exploded.
- It demanded that an Alabama high school marching band cease it’s “religious” halftime performances at football games. The school said it would consider removing some props but that the show would remain the same.
- It demanded that a Texas high school remove a Christian flag flying on campus — which was met by some students flying the same flag from their vehicles in the school parking lot.
- It demanded that a different Alabama high school stop loudspeaker prayers at football games. But after the school complied, students ended up praying out loud in the stands.