Coach Marcus Borden huddles with his players
The Alliance Defense Fund and other pro-liberty organizations are filing friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Marcus Borden, a New Jersey football coach barred from silently bowing his head or kneeling during pre-game prayers.
As WorldNetDaily reported, a federal court of appeals ruled the high school coach broke the law when he would routinely bow his head or “take a knee” while his team prayed before games.
“Coaches and teachers shouldn’t be told to disrespect religious students on a public school campus,” ADF Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull said. “We’re in big trouble in this country if a high school football coach can’t even show respect during the prayer of his players. The Constitution does not prohibit him from bowing his head or kneeling during student-led prayer.”
Borden defended himself, saying, “We’re teaching kids values. There’s nothing wrong with being spiritual.”
In 2005, school officials at East Brunswick High School instated a policy prohibiting school employees and representatives of the school district from taking part in student-led prayer. Borden is currently unable to participate in student-initiated prayers.
In its case, the school district argued public employees participating in prayers would violate “the separation of church and state.”
U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh ruled the following year that the district’s interpretation was wrong and that school officials were infringing on Borden’s right to free speech, freedom of association and academic freedom.
Representatives of the school district, as well as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that Borden lacked any constitutional right to expression or academic freedom as a public employee.
The appellate judges concluded Borden’s acts “cross the line and constitute and unconstitutional endorsement of religion.”
School officials had ordered Borden not to bow his head while his players voluntarily took part in a pre-game prayer.
“If this ruling is allowed to stand, it will mean that high school teachers across the United States will have no free speech or academic freedom rights at all,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which has worked on the case.
“This undermines a time-honored tradition that has less to do with religion than it does athletic tradition. It’s a sad statement on our rights as Americans that schools are no longer bastions of freedom,” he said.
According to Borden, praying before games has been a traditional at the school for nearly 25 years.