Attorney General Eric Schmitt has defended the saying of a prayer before and after high school football games, and has blasted a foundation that criticized the Cameron R-l School District and its coaches for allowing prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the high school football coach at Cameron and his assistant coach “illegally” lead students in prayer before and after games. The foundation alleged in a letter to the district that the coach violated the U.S. Constitution “because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee.”
The establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from favoring one religion over others.
The attorney general in a letter to the district blasted the foundation as “an extreme anti-religion organization that seeks to intimidate local governments into surrendering their citizens’ religious freedom and to expunge any mention of religion from the public square.”
Attorney General Schmitt added, “I write to assure you that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit public prayer, and that the First Amendment protects the rights of public-school students to engage in voluntary prayer in public spaces. In fact, public invocations to God constitute a cherished part of our national history.”
The attorney general added that if the foundation “seeks to silence voluntary prayer outside of Cameron’s football games through a lawsuit, we will support your football team’s lawful, voluntary decision to pray.”
The attorney for the foundation at this time does not plan to sue and claims the attorney general’s letter ignores the focus of the complaint.
We applaud the attorney general’s position in this matter, and we feel confident the vast majority of Missourians agree with him. Our thoughts go back to warfare when priests and ministers or military personnel conducted services for troops, especially before a battle, or during one, and attendance was voluntary by the troops on grounds occupied by the U.S. military. We are not comparing football to warfare but write this to emphasize that prayer in both cases is voluntary.
We don’t think for one second that the coaches were trying to promote their religious belief or a particular religion. No one forced the players to pray. Usually, the players are asking the Almighty to spare them from injury.
Then the attorney general in his letter emphasized that “no coach or other Cameron official has forced any football player to participate in prayer or taken any action against any player who chose not to participate.”
The attorney for the anti-religions foundation claims the players “feel immense pressure and coercion to make their coach happy and to make their teammates happy.” That’s not a valid assumption and indicates the foundation knows it does not have a strong legal case. Have any of the players complained or indicated they were pressured by their coach to pray or join his church? No.
The whole matter comes down to the foundation trying to intimidate the school district into doing away with prayer before and after football games.