A Pennsylvania high school football coach can no longer lead his team into prayers before each game after a complaint from an atheist organization. But the players vow to uphold the tradition which has been practiced by the coach for 30 years.
Last June, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Dunmore School District to complain that the prayers led by Dunmore High School Head Coach Jack Henzes were unconstitutional, Christian News reported.
FRFF, a non-profit organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, said that the matter was brought to its attention by a local resident.
"When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes, leads or participates in team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district's behalf," the FRFF wrote.
Dunmore Superintendent John Marichak responded to the letter on Oct. 31 notifying the group that Henzes is now prohibited from leading the students in prayer.
"We directed Coach Henzes to be sure that he should not partake in any such behavior. We also covered this with all of our personnel to be consistent and exhaustive in the upholding of the law." wrote Marichak.
FRFF attorney Elizabeth Cavell said that the organization was pleased by the school's response to its request.
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The team has expressed their plans to uphold Henzes' tradition. "We have a good close-knit team with the older guys and younger guys and we'll definitely carry on the tradition," said running back Colin Holmes.
The Dunmore players knelt and prayed before the District 2 Class 2A semi-final football game against Mid Valley and before the district final against Lakeland.
Cavell said that the FRFF does not object to the students praying as long as it is not led by the coaches or other school officials.
"Students are perfectly free to engage in prayer, even group prayer, that is truly student-initiated," said Cavell as reported by The Times Tribune.
The team recently finished the regular season with an undefeated record of 10-0.