School still life with copyspace on chalkboardWritten by Don Byrd

A publicly-funded charter school in Arizona has disciplined its football coach for his role in team prayers. Members of the community – as we often see in these disputes – are defending the coach, but it is nice to see the school administrator standing behind the 2-game suspension, and framing this issue as it should be understood.

“He is a man who likes to pray and I don’t object to that. Just – he can’t do that with our students. That’s the only prohibition,” says Dr. Davis Baum, the Headmaster of Tempe Preparatory Academy.

“He directed students to lead a prayer and he joined the students in that prayer and did so in view of everyone. I think I preserved the religious freedom of our students – who have to have the liberty to be able to practice or not practice their religion on our campus – without interference by adults,” adds Dr. Baum.

That is exactly right. This is an issue of religious freedom – not for the coach, who remains free to pray on his own – but for the students, who should not have to choose between participating in religious exercise and participating as a full member of the team in good standing with the coach.

Students can choose to pray, on their own or together in groups, on their own. As Dr. Baum emphasized, “without interference by adults.”

Brent Walker’s “Public schools are not religion-free zones” column has a nice review of the proper ways religion can be exercised in public schools.