March 3, 2009
Yesterday the American Humanist Association hailed the United States Supreme Court for declining to hear a lawsuit that challenged a school district policy that bans sport coaches from participating in student prayer. Marcus Borden, a high school football coach, had sued officials in East Brunswick, New Jersey, after he was forbidden to bow his head and “take a knee” with students before games. A federal appeals court sided with the school board against Borden, and the Supreme Court has allowed that decision to stand.
“The Supreme Court was right to dismiss this case,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Coaches, teachers and other school officials are municipal employees, and thus their conduct during school or school-sponsored activities must adhere to constitutional standards of separation of church and state. Mr. Borden’s participation in student prayer could reasonably be seen as government endorsement of a particular religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
There had been several complaints lodged against Borden for praying with students in the locker room before football games. The school district said that Borden often led such prayers, and had even arranged for a chaplain to attend team dinners.
“Make no mistake: the issue here isn’t whether student prayer is permissible,” added Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association. “But students shouldn’t feel influenced, pressured, or coerced into prayer by school officials in any way–overt or subtle.”
The case is Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.