Friday, October 17, 2008

A coach's controversial prayer

Should a high school coach be permitted to initiate team prayer before a big game? Or any game? A federal appeals court decided no. After three years of legal battles, the coach is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Interesting case, which brings into play the First Amendment rights of the former football coach, East Brunswick (N.J.) High School's Marcus Borden - and the competing rights of the players to be spared official team prayer.

In 2005, Coach Borden acknowledged leading prayers during team dinners and in the locker room before several games. School officials ordered him to stop, citing school policy, and he resigned at midseason. The coach filed suit and the case has been in the courts ever since.

The odds are against the case being accepted, as they are against any single case being heard by the Supreme Court. The panel hears just 700 of the 8,000 petitions it receives each year. Borden is expected to learn before the end of the year whether the justices will hear the case this term, according to the Asbury Park Press.

I don't know the former coach's religious affiliation. Whatever it might be, it almost certainly wasn't shared by all players on his team. Praying privately, off in the corner of the locker room, is a wonderful thing. So is praying at home before the game or dinner. Coach, why insist on group prayer when this is the inevitable result?

Thanks to USA Today's "Prep Rally"


dearsportsmom said...

Thanks for the dearsportsmom link on your site! You cover some important issues here and have helped me find more information on youth sports parenting. Keep up the good work!
As for praying before a game... Religion is sure a hot button. My own blog about a team trip on Easter stirred lots of reader response. People shared very opposing opinions, but all people came from a place of caring about families and balancing our priorities to teach positive values. (Well, there was one ugly comment from someone who must be missing a few marbles.) I have not seen team prayer at the high school level. At the college level, however, it seems to be handled without incident. When my son was at the UW, several players gathered by first base before every game for prayer. I respected their dedication to something they believed was important. I have heard that some college teams pray together, but it doesn't seem to be a problem with anyone. I'm interested in reading more about this. Thanks for writing about it.

Mark Hyman said...

Thanks for writing. I've enjoyed your blog. The distinction here, I think, is that the coach was initiating team prayer. Had the players been praying alone or in small groups, without participation of the coach, as was the case in the college experience you refer to, I believe the issue would not have arisen. If there's a constitutional lawyer reading who'd like to weigh in, please do.