Atheists target HS football coach seeming to pray with players—but district apparently isn’t caving

Atheists target HS football coach seeming to pray with players—but district apparently isn’t caving
An atheist activist group wants an Indiana school district to investigate a high school football coach who appeared to pray with his players last month — but the school district doesn't appear to be caving to the demands of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. (Image source: Courier & Press video screenshot)

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.”
Image source: WEVV-TV video screenshot
Image source: WEVV-TV video screenshot
  • 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.”
Image source: WEVV-TV video screenshot
Image source: WEVV-TV video screenshot
  • 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: