An editorial in the daily newspaper of Peoria, Ill., strongly supported state-church separation when commenting on a case involving FFRF.
A district parent reported to FFRF that the Dunlap High School boys cross country coach joins his team in a group prayer prior to each meet. The prayer is reportedly initiated by a student but the team’s coach participates by standing with the students and holding his hat across his heart during the prayer, making any students who opt out feel like they are disappointing their coach.
It is well-established law that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead their teams in prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has routinely struck down school-sponsored prayer.
On Oct. 6, the Journal Star of Peoria backed FFRF’s claim when it ran an editorial titled, “Separation of church and state must be respected.”
“In today’s America, we are learning the hard truth of what it means to be an individual and to demand your rights, as well as the cost of not being one of the group, even if your rights are outlined in the Constitution,” the editorial began.
“Feedback from that story leaned toward commenters saying the parent should get over it. But that’s not what the law states,” the editorial continued. “The Constitution allows for keeping religion out of public business, including in schools and government buildings. Simply put, religious views should not be forced upon an individual or their children while they are in school.”
FFRF did receive word from the district’s law firm that “unintentional constitutional violations can occur if actions of school representatives cross the line from showing deference and respect to actually ‘endorsing’ religious exercises. In that regard, we have counseled school representatives to insure that the coaching staff maintains an appropriate distance from any student initiated prayer circle so not to send any unintended message that the district endorses the religious exercise.”
The Journal Star concluded its editorial with strong words of constitutional truth.
“However unintentional, a change needed to be made. Separation of church and state is the law and should be acknowledged and respected.”