"You may have stopped our coach from praying, but you can't stop us."
This was the implicit message relayed by the members of a high school football team in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. to an atheist group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The defiant response came after the FFRF succeeded in stopping Dunmore High School football coach Jack Henzes from leading his team in prayer at the 50-yard-line, temporarily stopping a nearly five-decade-old prayer tradition, according to Faith Wire.
Henzes had reportedly been leading the team in prayer before kick-off each game for the past 45 years before the FFRF filed a complaint over the practice, WBRE-TV reported.
The atheist activist group claimed that what the coach was doing was unconstitutional since his prayer was allegedly an endorsement of religion, an act banned in the U.S. Constitution.
"When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organises, leads or participates in team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district's behalf," the FFRF argued.
Henzes defended his action, saying that he leads his team in prayer before games so that no one would get hurt on the field. He added that none of the players were ever forced to pray or participate in the group invocation.
Nevertheless, Dunmore School District acceded to the FFRF complaint, which was made in June, and stopped Henzes from leading his team in prayer.
But this did not stop Henzes' players from praying on the field before a game, even without their coach, knowing that student-led prayer is allowed in public schools.
The players said they will carry on their school's prayer tradition, despite their coaches' absence.
"I'm very religious myself and I believe that it's tradition that we need to keep it going. It's a shame that it got called off, but it is what it is," said Chris Murray, a Dunmore High School junior, according to CBN News.
Many Dunmore residents criticised the school district's decision to stop Henzes from leading a prayer in public.
"I don't understand how people have this much time on their hands to protest issues like this when there are so many major issues out there," resident Beth Ann Zero told WNEP-TV.
"It's just something you're accustomed to doing every day, and Coach Henzes doesn't just teach football, he teaches life lessons, and this is a life lesson I'm sure he'll teach the Bucks," alumnus Sal Marchese said.