Youth pastor, not coach, led prayers on field after player injury, school officials say after complaint

Youth pastor, not coach, led prayers on field after player injury, school officials say after complaint

February 1st, 2017 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Video credit: Stump Martin

After a serious football injury during a game in September, a local youth pastor led a prayer with players from Central and East Ridge High School.

As an ambulance carried away the injured player who could not feel his legs, many in the stands, coaches and officials also bowed their heads in respect.

This incident prompted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that works to protect the separation of church and state, to file a complaint last week against Hamilton County Schools, as the law prohibits school employees from leading or participating in prayer with students.

A Facebook video of the prayer has been viewed more than 25,000 times. 

Hamilton County Schools investigated the complaint Monday and found the coaches did not lead the prayer. 

In a response to the complaint, Scott Bennett, the attorney for Hamilton County Schools, explained the coaches "simply joined with their teams in the shadow of what then appeared to be a profound tragedy."

"Rather than being an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, this was human compassion at its finest," Bennett wrote.

Officials with Hamilton County Schools understand they may not endorse any particular religious practice and do not think any Constitutional boundaries were violated in this situation, Bennett continued. 

"Even so, the school system plans to provide additional training to its employees on the application of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in the public schools," he stated in the response. 

School officials say the injured player made a full recovery.

In the complaint, Rebecca Markert, attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, writes that its laudable for students and coaches to express concern over an injured player, but coaches cannot use it as an opportunity to engage students in a religious exercise. 

"Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students' prayers," she writes. 

Loudspeaker prayers before football games at Hamilton County Schools were banned in 2010 after some Soddy-Daisy students complained. 

Scores of fans and students met with Soddy-Daisy and Rhea County high school football players for prayer in the days after the ban, though student-led prayer practices were also challenged in subsequent years.

All 32 coaches reached by the Times Free Press in 2013 endorsed some form of team prayer. 

See tomorrow's Times Free Press for the full story. 

 


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