On any given fall Friday night, you’d be hard-pressed to find a football field in the South without a bowed head or a bent knee.
But even before the season begins, the issue of prayer on public high school fields was put in the spotlight last week when a humanist group accused Chestatee High School of “unconstitutional infusion of religion into the high school football program.”
In its letter to the school, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, wrote that coaches are leading and participating in prayers and Bible verses are printed on workout sheets and cheerleading banners. All this amounts to government-endorsed religion, the group argued.
Yet the humanist center’s effort to parachute in and dictate policy has, so far, backfired. The community outpouring of support for the coaches and players has mostly drowned out dissenters. Other schools have held prayer gatherings in support, and social media pages and links have been created to celebrate the cause.
We agree no school should force prayer or religious expression on anyone. By all accounts, no one at Chestatee has crossed that line. Yet we also agree individual students should be free to express their beliefs, whether they pray to Jesus, Allah, an ancestral god or none at all.
There is a difference between talking about faith after class with a student who has initiated that discussion and preaching the Gospel in front of 20-plus young people who aren’t allowed to grab their bags and step out of the room.
Guidelines on what teachers can discuss on school grounds lean toward limiting their speech altogether to ensure a student never feels the school endorses certain beliefs. But teachers should not lose their own religious identities simply because they speak to impressionable young minds.
Everyone’s beliefs should be respected. Discussion about religion, however, should not be discouraged.
The only way for a Christian to understand a Muslim’s beliefs, and vice versa, is to hear them firsthand and learn about them.