By Aaron Earls
Can high school football coaches pray with their teams? Many school districts are saying no, while most Americans see nothing wrong.
Last year, several football coaches were involved in high profile disputes over public prayers. While advocacy groups have challenged the constitutionality of the practice, the vast majority of Americans are fine with the prayers.
A PRRI survey found almost 3 in 4 Americans (73 percent) believe football coaches at public high schools should be allowed to lead their players in Christian prayers during games. Only 24 percent say it should be disallowed.
Support for the prayers stretches across religious lines. Christian denominations overwhelmingly believe coaches should be allowed to pray with their teams: 93 percent of evangelical Protestants, 80 percent of Catholics, 77 percent of non-white Protestants, and 76 percent of white mainline Protestants.
Even a majority of the religiously unaffiliated Americans are OK with coaches praying. Fifty-five percent of Nones say the prayers should be allowed, while 40 percent disagreed.
Last season, Joe Kennedy, an assistant coach at Bremerton High School in the Seattle, Washington area, ignored his school district’s warning against praying on the field after a game. The school district subsequently suspended him, placing him on paid leave until he agrees to not pray while on duty as a coach.
Before his suspension, Kennedy told a local newspaper he would fight to continue praying on the field. “Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “But I’m going to be bold in my faith.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded a Naperville, Illinois, school district prevent a coach-led prayer with the Naperville Central football team. While the superintendent issued a statement to end all such religious activities, the players on the team released a letter pledging to continue praying regardless of the legal challenges.
Outreach Ideas: While coach-led prayers may be legally questionable, churches can still make an impact during the football season. Reach out to the coaches at your local schools to see how your church can serve them.
Athletic teams often practice before and after school. Offer to provide water, sports drinks, or snacks during practice or pre- or post-game meals.
Check with school officials to see if a church staff member could serve as a volunteer chaplain.
Host a church tailgate at the stadium before the game or a 5th Quarter event at your church after.
Provide breakfast or lunch for coaches once a week during the season.
What ways have you served your local school sports teams?
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.