More and more Christians are finding it difficult to express their faith in God in the United States—even in the field of sports.
First, they forbid a football coach from saying a prayer after a game at the risk of losing his job.
Now comes a Christian football player who has been penalised for making even the slightest gesture on the field as an expression of his faith.
Over the weekend in New York during a high school football match, 17-year-old Mexico High School quarterback Dante Turo ran 73 yards for a touchdown. To praise the Lord for allowing him to make the big play, Dante raised a single finger to the sky, according to Fox News.
Suddenly, to his amazement, the referee tossed a flag and penalised him 15 yards for "taunting" and "excessive celebration" which translated to "unsportsmanlike conduct."
Video replay shows Dante running the end zone and raising his finger for just a second or two before tossing the football to the ref.
"I talked to the referee and told him I wasn't trying to do anything malicious or arrogant—I was just trying to give praise to God," Dante told Fox News. "He [referee] told me, 'don't do it again.'"
His coach Tee Murabito protested the call, telling the referee that Dante was just praising God. But the referee insisted that what he did was taunting, which is not allowed.
Geno, Dante's father, was flabbergasted. He said he taught his son to always give glory to God but doing it in a subtle way so as not to attract too much attention after making big plays.
"When you score touchdowns, when you make big plays, it's easy to become proud," Geno told Fox News. "It's easy to take credit for yourself. I didn't want my son to get caught up in that."
Describing his son's raised finger gesture, Geno said all Dante wanted to do at that moment was "to take credit away from himself and give glory to God."
"God gives us the ability and the talent. As Christians, we want to be sure to give that back immediately," he said.
Geno said he's proud of his son. "He's brave. I brought him up to be fearless in the face of opposition," he said.
Geno said what happened to his son was just a tiny example of the many instances happening all over America when Christians are being told to keep their beliefs to themselves.
"It troubles me," Geno said. "I think people have forgotten that we settled in this land to flee religious persecution. We're supposed to have religious freedom here. But it seems like instead of religious freedom we are being persecuted for our beliefs."
Dante said he will be back on the football field this Friday night. If he scores another touchdown, he promises to once again raise his finger to the sky to honour God—whatever penalty that would cost. "Without a doubt I will raise my finger," he said.