School bans ‘Tebowing’ style postgame prayer following ACLU complaint
In a decision that is sure to incite passions on both sides of the debate over religion in schools, a high school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. officially outlawed postgame prayer in response to a formal complaint about violation of separation of church and state that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the Oakland Press, the case in question focuses on Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Lahser High, where the school’s football team led traditional post-game prayers at midfield, allowing members of its team and opponents to take part in the tradition of offering thanks for another game completed.
OK, this may not seem like the biggest story in the world; every holiday season there's another "ACLU Fights Against Nativity Scene On City Hall" lawsuit, fueling FOX's inevitable "War on Christmas" nonsense.
In fact, I was heavily involved in exactly one of those cases myself about 6 years ago, as some may recall.
However, this story has special meaning for me, for several reasons.
First, I attended Lahser High School myself (class of '88).
Second, I happen to live just a stone's throw away from Lahser today--My family bought a house immediately to the south of the school, and could hear the football games being played last fall to our north.
Third, Bloomfield Hills happens to be the home town of both U.S. Congressman (and MI-Sen candidate) Gary Peters as well as has-been Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, among other notable names.
And fourth, as some of you may remember, I was heavily involved in a local high school bond issue last year, which resulted in the residents approving $59 million in property taxes to fund a brand-new high school to replace the two existing, aging, crumbling buildings.
One of those buildings happens to be...Lahser High School.
Which, technically, no longer exists as of about 3 weeks ago: While the building is still there, and students will still be attending classes there for the next 2 years (while the new building is constructed), the reality is that the Lahser and Andover student body, faculty and administration are already now combined into one; it's officially Bloomfield Hills High School starting this fall.
Anyway, the thing that shocked (and, frankly, embarrassed) me a bit is that even though I attended Lahser, live right next to it, and have been heavily involved in local public school issues (including attending the Save Michigan's Public Schools rally a couple of weeks ago)...I hadn't heard a peep about this Lahser high school post-game rally story until this evening.
I dunno...maybe it's just that I've never been either a jock or much of a sports fan; I haven't actually attended a Lahser football game since I graduated over 20 years ago.
The thing is, unlike other similar incidents, this doesn't appear to be a case of the school deliberately being insensitive; it seems to have sort of just developed into an unofficial tradition over the years. Bloomfield Hills has a pretty large Jewish and Muslim population, and it's not exactly an ultra-fundie Bible Belt area, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt:
In contrast with the original complaint made to the ACLU, which claimed that Loria had been leading players in the prayer sessions, the coach and senior officials insisted that he was only present at the sessions.Anyway, as you'd expect, the whole thing has turned into another huge nontroversy®, which FOX News has, naturally, decided to jump all over (video in the article).
Nonetheless, [Lahser football coach Dan] Loria acknowledged responsibility for the religious transgressions because of his knowing presence, and made it clear that the practice would be stopped before any other athletes were left uncomfortable in future seasons.
“When it comes to discipline, whatever you allow, you encourage,” he said. “By me being present, I was encouraging it. This happened because of me and I had to wake up.”
We are disappointed by the local and national news coverage of our district over the past three days. The headlines and stories are inaccurate and unfairly accuse district leadership of banning prayer. Rob Glass, Superintendent, issued the following blog post yesterday, in response to the inaccurate claims:Well said, Mr. Glass.
As a result of the recent news reports regarding prayer on the football field, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what is and is not allowed in our public schools.
Public schools are, by definition, schools that are maintained at public expense for the education of the children of a community. The students who attend our district are incredibly diverse, representing over 60 languages spoken and a wide range of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. We celebrate these differences with culture fairs, extensive world language programs, and a plethora of other activities which allow our students to develop a rich community of understanding and friendship.
Our administrators, teachers, and support staff understand the delicate balance of respecting a student’s faith and freedoms, while maintaining a neutral learning environment, ensuring that each student is provided with an emotionally safe space for instruction.
When the ACLU brought to us some very serious allegations regarding coach-led prayer on the football field, we took immediate action in thoroughly investigating the matter. Our investigation found that while the coach did not lead the students in prayer, he was present when student-led prayers were held. The coach was reminded of our Board Regulation, 5605.1, which states that, “ceremonies, prayer or references of any religious nature are prohibited at school-sponsored events such as banquets, commencement, assemblies and programs.”
Our students should feel comfortable in their environment and we respect their freedom to pray or not pray. However, Bloomfield Hills Schools is a public school district and therefore, prayer must be conducted so as not to conflict with instruction time, other students, or school sponsored activities. If students desire to pray, it cannot be incorporated into classroom instruction, official team meetings, etc.
Enforcing this Board Regulation is our way of maintaining a supportive environment for all students. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation, but more importantly, we appreciate your openness in sharing your unique backgrounds with us. Our differences unite us in Bloomfield Hills Schools and our students are well-rounded, caring, and respectful individuals as a result.