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Coaches Advised to Avoid Prayers with Team

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Copyright 2018 The Evansville Courier Co.
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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)

 

After a recent complaint from a national atheist group, South Gibson School Corp. will soon instruct its personnel to avoid taking part in student-led prayers.

That's according to a press release from The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which levied a complaint against the school corporation on Nov. 30.

The organization claims a "concerned citizen" sent them a Facebook photo that showed members of the Gibson Southern Titans praying alongside the Evansville Memorial Tigers after a Nov. 2 football game. Adults were sprinkled throughout the crowd as well.

The release, issued on Wednesday, included a letter from Princeton attorney J. Robert Kinkle.

Speaking on behalf of the school corporation, Kinkle wrote that South Gibson will, after the first of the year, "instruct the school personnel, including all coaches, that they may not encourage, lead, initiate, mandate, either directly or indirectly any such student prayer."

"In addition we want to emphasize to our personnel that they may not participate in any such student-led prayer," the letter continues. "... We will advise our personnel that students certainly have a right not to participate in any such prayer."

The letter emphasizes that any student who wants to pray is free to do so, per their First Amendment rights.

Gibson Southern Superintendent Stacey Humbaugh confirmed the letter's authenticity.

Despite the official policy announcement, it's not clear whether coaches or personnel led or took part the incident that sparked FFRF's complaint.

According to reporters who cover the Titans, Gibson Southern head coach Nick Hart doesn't take part in the prayers. He's usually talking to the media during that time.

And as a Catholic school, Memorial is immune from any issues.

The original photo does show adults taking part, but it's not clear whether they were leading the prayer.

"The photograph as it relates to possible coaches (sic) participation in student-led prayer is certainly ambiguous," Kinkle's letter reads.

"Please be advised that it is the policy of South Gibson School Corporation to fully adhere to the First Amendment to the Constitution's principle of separation of church and state."

If all this sounds familiar, it's because it is.

In 2017, the FFRF said Reitz High School football coach Andy Hape committed a "serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment" when he prayed with players after a game against Mater Dei.

"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 group's attorney, Ryan Jayne, wrote in a letter to the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.

The Courier & Press also found a video from 2014 in which Hape led the team in prayer.

At the time, EVSC officials said the school corporation told Hape that students should lead the prayers. Aside from that, the EVSC supported Hape taking part.

Jon Webb

Columnist


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