HS coaches excluded from post-game prayer after atheist complaints

Coach Bill Collick with Cape Henlopen High School students.Cape Gazette/Facebook

Cape Henlopen High School football coaches will no longer pray with their athletes following an atheist organisation's complaint.

The change was made after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to district superintendent Robert Fulton on October 8 regarding the legality of school employees and students praying together, according to DelawareOnline.com.

The letter cited a photo published in The Cape Gazette on October 3, showing Cape Henlopen head coach Bill Collick apparently praying with his team.

"He's got his hands on players and he's bowing his head and he's participating in a prayer circle with students," FFRF staff attorney Elizabeth Cavell told the News Journal.

"Our objection to that is it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to say that public school districts and their employees cannot advance or endorse religion while acting in their official capacity."

Just over a week later, the district informed FFRF that the controversial activity would cease.

"I can assure you that our employees, including coaches, will be reminded of laws involving the Separation of Church and State and will respond accordingly so that an objective/reasonable observer will not perceive their actions as endorsing religion in the future," Fulton wrote in his response.

After the football team's loss on Friday, the coaches stood near the kneeling athletes, but did not join them in prayer. Cavell expressed pleasure with the outcome, and said that the law is on FFRF's side.

"We're expecting that staff, including coaches, are not going to be participating in prayers with the students in the future," she said. "We've taken lawsuits in the public-school context, but I don't think we've taken a lawsuit on coach-led prayer.

"The law is pretty well established, so it doesn't lead to much litigation," Cavell added. "The case law is quite clear."

Coach Collick remained optimistic in the face of adversity.

"We will continue to move forward and be about respect and do the things we know that good citizens and good people need to do," he said.