EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A high school football coach in southwest Indiana committed a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment” by praying with his team after a recent victory, according to an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is seeking an investigation of Evansville Reitz football coach Andy Hape after he prayed with his team on Oct. 14, following their 49-46 win over Evansville Mater Dei, The Evansville Courier & Press reported.
“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students,” the Wisconsin-based group said in a letter to the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.
School district spokesman Jason Woebkenberg said the district supports people who join students during student-led prayer.
“Please know student-led prayer is acceptable at any of our schools, and we stand by those who stand with our students during student-led prayer,” Woebkenberg said.
He said attorneys are reviewing the group’s letter.
The district’s rules state that staff is prohibited to use “prayer, religious readings, or religious symbols as a devotional exercise or in an act of worship or celebration.” The rights of the minority, no matter how small, must be protected, according to district rules.
Metropolitan School District of Mount Vernon Superintendent Tom Kopatich said he doesn’t think Reitz is the only school to huddle before or after a game. He said he also sees Mount Vernon and other teams convene.
“I’m not sure what they do,” Kopatich said. “But it’s sad that it’s coming to that place that we’re trying to eliminate that. People have to realize, if you don’t want to be there or you don’t want to participate in something of that nature, you don’t have to. It’s a choice.”