ACLU Supports Parents in Demanding that Coach Stop Leading Prayer Before Football Games

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
October 30, 2000 12:00 am

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DETROIT, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today sent a letter to Melvindale School District officials urging an end to faculty-led religious prayer prior to high school football games.

“A public school coach is not free to pray with his players and to indoctrinate them with religious teachings,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Parents have a right to expect that schools will respect their decisions and instructions to their children in these important matters.”

The ACLU brought the case on behalf of Bruna Guerra-Lawton, the parent of students in the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park School District who objected to the coach’s practice of leading pre-football game prayers with players.

The coach, Don Wolan, is also a Pastor at Downriver Christian Community Church in Melvindale. Pastor Wolan confirmed that he had been praying with his players and has essentially challenged parents to try to stop him.

In its letter sent today to Superintendent James Goebel and School District CEO Cora Kelly, the ACLU asked school officials investigate the situation immediately, before the football season comes to a close.

“We believe that any decision to permit Pastor Wolan to coach football games must be conditioned upon his agreement to stop injecting his religion into public school sports,” wrote Moss. “If Pastor Wolan wishes to coach a private church-affiliated team, he is of course free to indoctrinate them with religious teachings.”

Public schools and their agents are required by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to remain neutral in matters of religion. Administrators, teachers and coaches may not favor one religion over another and they may not favor religion over non-religion.

The courts have repeatedly, as recently as the last term of the U.S. Supreme Court, held that it is unconstitutional for a coach, or other school official, to initiate or lead a team in prayer or ask a team member to do so, before, during or after a public or school-sponsored athletic activity or event.

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