Prayer circle on a football field
Despite concerted efforts from legal groups, prayer remains a huge part of football – particularly at the high school level.

Praying for a last-second “Hail Mary” throw from the sidelines?

Not so fast, says the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The activist group famous for taking on religious authority in the U.S. recently selected a new target: school sanctioned prayer at football games. When the coaching staff at Indiana’s Gibson Southern High School led players in silent prayer after a game a few months back, they were probably just following tradition. But is that tradition legal?

Soon after the incident, the school district received a formal letter from FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne. Apparently, a witness had been present and snapped photos of coaches and players from both teams in contemplative prayer, heads bowed and hands on students’ shoulders.

“It is unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students,” Jayne wrote. “We are writing to request assurances that this constitutional violation will not reoccur.”

Looking to beef up the legal argument, Jayne cited several previous court rulings which rejected school district policies allowing student-led loudspeaker prayer before football games.

Time’s Up for Jesus?

The school district apparently found this argument convincing, as they’ve decided to change their prayer policies on the football field beginning in 2019.

“The photograph as it relates to possible coach participation in student-led prayer is certainly ambiguous,” responded school district attorney J. Robert Kinkle. “However, for the purposes of our response to this situation, we plan to instruct our head coaching staff at a meeting to be scheduled after the first of the year on this issue… that they may not encourage, lead, initiate, mandate, either directly or indirectly, any such student prayer.”

That’s not to say that Jesus is losing this battle. As we’ve documented before, the debate over whether Christianity should be kept out of public schools is by no means settled. Nor, for that matter, is it entirely clear that Christian values align with football – as one angry preacher made clear in a widely-viewed social media rant about youth football players going to hell.  

Football season might be nearing its end, but this controversy is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Where do you stand on the issue of prayer at football games? Is it an overblown issue, or are groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation right to be vigilant about Jesus slowly creeping from the football field into the classroom?

59 comments

  1. Chris says:

    I understand some players and coaches want to think their god helped them win the big game. And while they say it’s not mandatory to participate, I also know if you don’t join in the group you’re picked on, made fun of, called names, cut from the team, and basically treated as a pariah.

    No, we can never put a stop to prayer in school or at school functions no matter how out of place it is. It’s a pity that those who claim to follow a religion of peace and love get so militant and hateful toward those who don’t want to follow that path, who follow a different path.

    1. James says:

      We do have a separation of chruch and state. Not division of church and state. A Christian base prayer may separate players who don’t believe or practice other fates. As a Public School we should not divide this issue and respect the constitutional vision of the importance of keeping them separate so it doesn’t divide us. And yes throw the ball and pray for your receiver to catch it and maybe a hell mary should be renamed )))). Which is blasphemy if we are to practice Christian base believes.

      1. Debra J Green Threat says:

        Since then prayer was on the field and not in the school there SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM. I truly think there is a big problem with the school, if the team needs to Pray for to make a win then let them. It is not being done on school grounds. I BELEIVE THERE WASN’T ANYTHING WRONG WITH WHAT THE TEAM WAS DOING. TO THE FOOTBALLER PLAYERS, CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR YOUR TEAM WHEN YOU GUYS ARE PLAYING. AS A MINISTER i WILL BE PRAYING FOR YOU ALSO OFF AND ON THE FIELD. GOD BLESS ALL YOU YOUNG MEN. KEEP YOUR HEAD, GOD HAS YOU COVERED.

  2. Freddy Guerra says:

    Anywhere anytime is it good time for Jesus Christ our Lord and savior and I Holy Father God prey wherever you want to pray AMEN AND GOD BLESS AMERICA AND GOD BLESS PRESIDENT DONALD J TRUMP AND HIS FAMILY and vice president Mike Pence and his family

    1. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

      Freddy Guerra: You’ve swallowed the Trumpist cult kool-aid.

      1. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

        Freddy Guerrra: From Pacific Standard: A CULT EXPERT FINDS FAMILIAR PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOR IN TRUMP’S GOP
        What do you call an organization where total loyalty to a charismatic but volatile leader is strictly enforced?

        Last week, retiring Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) openly worried that his party was “becoming a cultish thing” marked by forced fidelity to its mercurial leader. While he’s not the first to make the point, his insider perspective carried considerable weight.

        But is his description hyperbole, or an accurate assessment? While cautioning that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump falls into the mindless-follower category, an expert on cults leans toward the latter.

        “I think he has touched on something important,” says scholar and author Janja Lalich, who has extensively studied the phenomenon. “I think there are plenty of similarities—enough to be concerned about.”

        She continues: “The people around Trump, and the Republicans in Washington, absolutely kowtow to him, either out of fear they’re going to anger him, or out of adulation. That behavior is very typical of a cult.”

        Read the entire article here: https://psmag.com/news/a-sociologist-explains-the-similarities-between-cults-and-trumps-gop

    2. Carl Elfstrom says:

      I’m a Republican who prays for Donald Trump’s impeachment.

    3. Harry Keeton says:

      I think this prayer is Spot On. God Bless our Executive Cabinets and The VP and POTUS.

  3. Punt says:

    Hail Mary? No Wicca team chants? Everybody knows Jesus only plays soccer! Concussions occur only to non believers…goal posts divide the pious by reaching for heaven, while pushing up from hell! God Almighty surely judged many recent priestly sins by not allowing Notre Dame the National Championship! Yes Friends, gather ‘round! Life, like football, is a zero sum game! Oops! Time for my lithium…

    1. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

      Punt: Well said!!

    2. Val Jester says:

      Lol. Very nice.

  4. ET says:

    Each individual must be allowed to follow whatever path chosen by that person as long as it doesn’t interfere with another’s path. Governmental agencies and their staff must remain secular when on duty if they wish to avoid the appearance of encouraging one path over another and to avoid the problems encountered by divergent spiritual/religious beliefs. When all else fails, the courts will decide.

    1. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

      ET: Well said!

    2. Val Jester says:

      There is a grave misconception among certain groups about what our founding fathers sought with the relationship between church and state. Our founders were religious and spiritual people who sought to have religion involved in every level of government. They were just as persistent that the government should not compel worship or a specific religion. If a governmental employee should encourage worship or supplication, it is a well established right to refuse participation without repercussion. Encouraging worship is not unconditional. Punishment for refusal is.

      1. Dr. Choice says:

        How does one police ostracization? If the athletes choose before or after a game, practice, or other event to pray that is their right. It should not be out loud and there should be no asking of others to join them. Those who need the prayer, or believe in who they are praying to, will see them and join.

        How would people feel if the coach led them in a prayer to Allah?, Satan?, Buddha?, or the many other Gods?

        There is freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

  5. Ralph J Miller says:

    I feel it should be led by students (team captain maybe)but it should be agreed on by the whole team.

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      Until it stops, to avoid the persecution of fellow classmates and others, has anyone ever heard of faking it?

      1. Tracy L says:

        So everyone who can “pass” as believing something other than what they really believe is safe, but people who stand up for themselves and stay true to their convictions are fair game for punishment? Is that really the value system you want our kids to embrace?

  6. Rev. John says:

    The situation can be easily handled. All that has to happen is have the Coach, or school official not be in the room or around the players. If they players themselves kneel and pray, that’ not on the school, but on the players. If there is a player that does not want to participate, they can just step away for the time the SILENT prayer is being said.

  7. Lori says:

    If they could bring the two teams together in a contemplative and reflective silence to promote a peaceful state of mind after a hostile game, …And keep Christianity out of it, I believe it would be very beneficial for pulling them back from the insanity of a game that makes mincemeat out of their brains. They definitely need something to quiet the ego after such a hostile sport.

  8. Alicia says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this on the field. While I believe that if the whole team agrees to have the prayer, there’s nothing wrong with it. However, when done so publicly, if one or two players don’t want to participate, EVERYONE will see it and I’m sure they’ll feel pressure to join in the future. No one should feel pressured or ostracized for not participating.

  9. Bobby French says:

    It’s time for Christians to stand up to groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (Satan’s mouthpiece),and the Liberal courts. Why should a few be able to dictate what the majority can and cannot do? How can one person’s rights supersede the rights of another. If you don’t like praying, then don’t participate and If someone refuses to bake you a gay themed cake, go to a bakery that will, it’s really that simple people. I will pray to my Heavenly Father when and where I want to and always follow my religious beliefs, if that means being fined (which I would never pay) or going to jail so be it. I will not just lay down when being persecuted for my religious beliefs.
    God Bless America

    1. Tracy Lunquist says:

      Exactly! So why should non-Christians be persecuted for THEIR religious beliefs (or lack thereof)? The tyranny of the majority was one of the main things our Constitution was written to prevent. If everyone else on the team is praying and I don’t want to pray, how’s that going to go for me? (Hint: high schoolers are not kind people.) When a few dictate what the majority can and cannot do, that’s called representative government and legislation. We create it so that mobs do not rule.

  10. John Owens says:

    If the teams wish to pray, it is a free country and they have every right to do so, on the field or off.

    1. Marilyn Gibson says:

      Truth

    2. JRodd says:

      The same as taking a knee in pro football?

  11. Lionheart says:

    Once you open the flood gates to allow prayer on the field at State run facilities, before you know it, players in heavily Islamic communities will be bringing their prayer mats onto the field and stopping the game until they are done, and the First Ammendment goes out the window. If the players do that, what do you think those of the same religion who are attending the game will be doing? There will have to be sufficient room for them to do the same. They won’t be standing up in prayer like Christians do. Is everyone okay with that?

  12. torro says:

    what the hell is wrong with human kind. a Christian country turned into a playground for brainless morons; the sooner everything gets back to normal, all will be well, but then we have that type in ??power??. It is like Merry Christmas becoming happy holiday (YUK)

    1. Lori says:

      It’s not JUST a Christian country. What planet do you live on! I do believe that you’re not in the same reality as the rest of us. Perhaps brainless moron covers your way of looking at things. Grow up!

      1. torro says:

        my dear lori, you should think before you speak and let the grown ups do what they do

        1. Lori says:

          Yes. I should. Conversing with people like you is a complete waist of time. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

          1. John D. Partin says:

            waste

    2. Lionheart says:

      Let’s not be disrespectful to those who have a different mindset, or a lack of understanding. There are many that believe this is purely a Christian country. It might be true to say that on the whole this is a religious/spiritual country. Many are now becoming very secular though, possibly more than at any time in this nations history, as logic, reason, and education improve.

      1. Adala says:

        You’re absolutely right, Lionheart. I should have taken into account the delusional state of the fundamental Christian community. I shouldn’t let their crap get the better of me. Unfortunately, they know not what they do.

  13. Tom says:

    Respectfully, there is no place for religion in public schools, whether in the classroom, sports or anything else…the most that should be allowed is a moment of silent contemplation…Peace…Tom

  14. John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON says:

    Some years back, it was MANDATORY in the Canadian Forces to pray along with the padre during ceremonies. Although I grew up in a Calvinist Presbyterian house, I haven’t considered myself a Christian for more than 30 yrs now, and often got into a bit of hot water with padres for not wanting to pray with them (almost all CF padres are from monotheistic religions). Finally encountered one that realized that I may not be a Christian any more, and he asked me about it (privately, in MY office with the door closed). His response was to push it up the chain of command to allow for silent prayer during these ceremonies. I still had to do the drill movements that went along with it, but I was not forced to speak words I did not have any belief in. It worked, and the last two years of my contract, I didn’t have to talk.

    1. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

      John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON: As a former Lutheran Chaplain in the U.S. Army I support your resistance and pleased that this worked in your favor. No one should be forced to pray.
      :

    2. The Rev. Brother Robert Barker says:

      John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON: Just wondering; what is the meaning behind the abbreviations behind your name? Thanks.

  15. Thomas says:

    Do they pray a thanksgiving prayer when the play fails or the game is lost? Interesting question.

  16. Gerry says:

    Her In England it is policy to have Christianity as part of the public school educational curriculum and religions generally so children learn about faith. That said, USA is one of the most ardent practitioners of Christianity and it is a great country too that is sometimes misunderstood by the rest of the world, but is well meaning.

  17. Thomas L Williamson says:

    Only one thing is clear:
    We are in a anti-Christ period.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Thank goodness! Him and his promiscuous mom have caused enough trouble as it is.

  18. Amber says:

    This all seems a bit over dramatic. Public schools are government offices. They are not banning Jesus, just school and program led prayer or religious study of any kind. If a kid wishes to pray or a group of them wish to pray together, that’s on them. It shouldn’t be mandatory and no one should be forced to do it or bullied into doing it. That’s all.

  19. fred klink says:

    once gods are forced on people it no longer freedom of choice now is it does god care ?

  20. Chuck says:

    This is a simple matter; believe whatever you wish, but don’t expect your beliefs to be endorsed by the general public. If you’re good with this, think of it this way: how would you feel if the team pulled out prayer rugs and praised allah before the game? It’s the exact same scenario, it’s even the same god. Keep religion out of the public sphere, home is the place for teaching belief systems, not public schools.

  21. Russ Daniels says:

    Rev. Russ

    To stay on the subject of the issue of the article, the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGIONROR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Emphasis added.)

    The genisis of prayer in school is that it didn’t sit well with a group of families in upstate New York who believed the prayer violated their children’s constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling 8-1 (Engel v. Vitale, 1962) that school-sponsored prayer violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; citeting the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which protects citizens from governmental establishment of an official religion. Since public schools are government institutions, a school-led prayer violates this principle.

    Subsequent lower courts have ruled that student prayer must be done silently, so as not to marginalize religious minorities.

    Federal law required schools to permit only voluntary, silent, and non-disruptive prayer. Some states repealed their school prayer laws entirely, but others passed legislation allowing for a one-minute period of silence during which a student may pray, meditate, or engage in silent activity.

    But not all states changed their laws. Others flagrantly defied federal law by enacting new statutes permitting various types of school-sponsored prayer. Regardless, statutes allowing this type of prayer in public schools are invalid and may not be enforced.

    (https://statelaws.findlaw.com/education-laws/details-on-state-prayer-in-public-school-laws.html)

    While 1789 is quite distant from 2019, the Constitution’s framers/authors assured all that the Constitution was, and remains, a “living” document; one that is allowed to change as society changes. And there have been many societal changes.

    As it seems the the ULC doesn’t have an official position of the issue, and notes that monitoring of the issue continues, I’m of the opinion that support or non-support of prayer in public schools comes down to a minister’s calling from the Creator.

    Peace to one and all.

  22. John Hardy says:

    Why can,t we stay in touch with our GOD.. We should not have taken it out of schools and our FLAG We need more GOD in our lives..How many rights do we have..GOD IS NUMBER ONE..
    KEEP PRAYING..HE LISTENS..

    1. Lionheart says:

      It’s an interesting thought isn’t it John, “that he listens”? However, he must have gone a bit deaf not hearing those waiting to be gassed during the holocaust. Not to mention those who he approved of being stoned to death, or those suffering from being enslaved, all of which he condoned. So, I really hope he isn’t number one, like you suggest, if he exists at all. He has a lot to answer for.

      He and I are going to have a big argument if/when I see him, that’s if he “listens” to me, which I doubt. I just hope he doesn’t get too angry at me, or I’ll punch him on the nose. He’s already shown that he has a major problem with anger management issues. Those that died during the great flood can vouch for that. It seems he might have listened to that drunkard, Noah, though. His family seemed to have won the lottery that year.

    2. Chuck says:

      Which god? Rhetorical question; obviously it’s whatever god you personally believe in. News for you: non-Christians pay taxes also, and most wouldn’t want their kids to be indoctrinated with one particular religion. If you want to see how well theocracy works, look no farther than the Middle East; a bastion of free thought and human rights (that’s sarcasm, in case you’re a literal thinker)

  23. Melinda says:

    I believe that when a public venue is involved there should be respect for all faiths and belief systems. We seem to forget that this country was formed to avoid the establishment of a state religion. Perhaps a moment of silence if the school feels a strong need to require prayer time at a public event

  24. Carole Paschelke says:

    As both a minister and a social worker, I think we forget that people’s needs should be addressed holistically- and that often includes a spiritual component. Advocating for someone under stress to incorporate their spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be, and integrate them as a coping skill for stress is not wrong- in fact, it’s healthy and appropriate. Now, of course requiring is a no- no, and care must be made to be inclusive of all spiritual paths. But to deny someone the opportunity to pray when that is how they handle a stressful situation- test, big game, whatever , is wrong. We seek to encourage people to expand their support systems and networks and find healthy coping mechanisms. When you take away the spiritual component we are eliminating a significant source of strength and support. We are mind, spirit, body, not just mind, body.

  25. Kevin Crabtree says:

    any other religion would be praised for praying in the US but not so for Christians. double standard.

  26. Colin Smith says:

    I can never understand why people in something like the Freedom from Religion Foundation can put more effort in stopping religion than we do in promoting religion. Christ gave us a simple task to pass his message to everyone, whether Jew or Gentile. You are quite right we don’t desecrate the holy books or beliefs of non Christians but we allow minority groups to stamp all over Christianity. Where ever two are three are gathered together they have a right to pray or worship. Why do we allow these minority cults to stop what the majority of us want. Yes being a Christian may get you persecuted but that is part of the deal we make with Christ. So why are objectors not allowed to be persecuted and seen as poor things.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Colin, the FFRF is not trying to stop religion. Where did you get that idea from?

      They are working to ensure the First Amendment, along with the Establishment Clause, is adhered to for the separation of Church and State. Government funded institutions (using your tax dollars) shouldn’t be used to promote any religion, and that includes Christianity, along with all other religions. How would you feel if a team came out with Islamic prayer mats and put them on the field of play expecting the crowd silences itself to join in praise to Allah?

      Basically, the FFRF are watchdogs making sure your tax dollars are being correctly spent in compliance with the Constitution.

  27. David says:

    The real issue here is football. It teaches all the wrong lessons. Foot ball should not be a part of public school. Or Christianity, for that matter.

  28. Rarity Tachibana says:

    Carol elfstorm, if you want to have an opinion have it about something that makes sense or shut up.right now we need to pray and come together as priest’s and Americans. For our country and our personal lives we need to listening to reality and not television.our souls depend on our values.

  29. oldaabill says:

    Has a law been passed forcing a religion on the players? 1st Amendment….Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. We live in a democracy. If the majority of players and coaches are religious, then they cannot be stopped from praying. There is nothing in the Constitution that allows minorities with hurt feelings to stop prayers.

  30. Rarity Tachibana says:

    We live in a REPUBLIC if we lived in a democracy we would be forced to have a certain religion, hence muslim countries.

  31. fredklink says:

    ok read a lot did some thinking. I am sitting on a rock out nowhere. enjoying the sun set and people came up and told me how their almighty god is doing all this. the neat part is how they all go out their way not to say magiclly using all kinds of cool sounding” nothing”. well rehersed speak so why should certain groups have easy time with young minds games are games not recruitment time to push a belief kind of scarrrry

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