Reitz High School football coach Andy Hape was reportedly caught praying with his student players in Indiana on Oct. 13.
Praying with students is a violation of school district rules, but the whistleblower who noted Hape’s religious activity with the students is being accused of stirring up trouble.
Hape has a history praying with the students. He was filmed in October 2014 leading the student athletes in prayer, noted the Courier & Press (video above).
“Here we go. Hand on somebody,” Hape said in the video, posted on Oct. 29, 2014. Hape led the kids in the Christian “Lord’s Prayer” by saying, “Our father.”
On Oct. 3, 2014, Hape began the same prayer with “Our father” (video below):
Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. spokesman Jason Woebkenberg recently told the Courier & Press:
Early in his tenure as a high school football coach, Coach Hape led his football players in team prayer. When district officials were made aware of this, he was informed that prayer should be initiated and led by students. Since that time, team prayers have occurred in this manner.
Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Ryan Jayne recently wrote a letter to the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, notes Fox News:
It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, participate in student prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students…
Coach Hape’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes religion when acting in his official capacity as a coach of the Panthers. When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the District’s behalf.
The school district policy bans staff from engaging in religious activities, including prayer with the students:
Staff members shall not use prayer, religious readings, or religious symbols as a devotional exercise or in an act of worship or celebration.
No matter how well intended, either official or unofficial sponsorship of religiously-oriented activities by the school are offensive to some and supplant activities which should be exclusive province of individual religious groups, churches, private organizations or the family.
However, school superintendent Dave Smith told WEVY that the school is standing by the coach:
Yeah, our coach was there supporting his players that’s what we expect and that’s what we love about our coaches and all of our employees they have every right to stand behind our employees our students and our student athletes
In reality, the coach was doing far more than just “supporting” the players, he engaged in a religious activity with them.
Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, claimed it was actually the kids who were performing the religious activity:
The kids have a First Amendment right to lay hands on their coach and pray for him. The government cannot stop the students’ religious expression.
If the school district prohibits the students’ exercise of religion, we stand ready to represent these players free of charge.
Evangelist Franklin Graham accused the person who called out the coach’s religious activity of trying to “stir up trouble” on Facebook:
An Evansville, IN, football team was photographed praying around their coach after a game—sounds great doesn’t it?? But one person in the community who saw it wanted to stir up trouble.
They contacted the atheists at Freedom From Religion Foundation who have now asked the school district to investigate Coach Andy Hape for what they are calling “serious and flagrant” violations of the First Amendment. Someone needs to set them straight.