Public school coaches told not to participate in prayer - WSMV Channel 4

Public school coaches told not to participate in prayer

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WESTMORELAND, TN (WSMV) -

Some football coaches are in trouble for something they did with their players. They said a prayer.

That has the school district taking action.

And the policy, while it may be the law, has plenty of people up in arms.

Every school district has a responsibility to follow the law, and separate private faith from public school. It can be a fine line at times. One crossed in Sumner County, it seems, when the coaches didn't say a word during a student-led prayer, but they did bow their heads.

In a town like Westmoreland, faith and football seem to matter.

"We're just respectful, God-fearing people up here," resident Tony Bentle said.

Bentle called games for Westmoreland High School for 42 years.

"A lot of history. A lot of changes. A lot of football," he said.

So when he, like a lot of people, heard what happened after a recent game at the middle school.

"It actually blew my mind, that we had come to that point," he said. "Nobody in this town is offended if you pray. Nobody."

During a student-originated, student-led prayer, four coaches bowed their heads. They didn't say a word.

But the principal and the district found out.

"We've been telling our principals to kind of be looking for those things, because that is kind of a shift in how things have been done," Sumner County Schools spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said. "It can in no way appear like it's endorsed by Sumner County Schools personnel."

Channel 4 asked if bowing one's head qualified as endorsing.

"It depends on what it looks like," he said. "That's where you kind of get into the gray area that we're having to deal with."

Each coach had to sign a letter stating he understood the district's revised policy.

Staff can be there when students pray but can not appear to take part, even outside school hours.

The tougher policy came just months after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the district, arguing it violated separation of church and state.

But in the push to stay legal and steer clear of another lawsuit, some in this town would say the district is going entirely too far.

"That's a violation of their rights. We should be able to bow our heads in reverence to God, wherever we are," Bentle said. "It's time we draw a line in the sand and say, you know, this is ridiculous."

It is important to note the coaches were not disciplined. They were educated on the district's policy.

Still, like any policy, if an employee has a pattern of breaking this, they are subject to discipline.

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