ADL Welcomes Ruling that New Jersey Football Coach May Not Lead Students in Prayer
West Orange, NJ, April 16, 2008… The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today welcomed the unanimous decision of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a New Jersey public school football coach may not lead or join his players in prayer.
"Public school teachers and coaches wield enormous influence over their students," said Etzion Neuer, ADL New Jersey Regional Director. "Common sense and the constitution dictate that they may not use that authority, given to them by the government, to create an environment where children of differing faiths, or of no faith, are made to feel unwelcome on their school."
The issue before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was whether the bowing of one's head and "taking a knee" by a high school football coach during player-initiated pre-game prayers constituted a violation of the Establishment Clause.
The East Brunswick High School football coach was ordered by the East Brunswick School District (EBSD) not to bow his head or "take a knee" with his players during pre-game prayers. The school received complaints about the activity, which took place out of public view in the locker room and cafeteria.
The EBSD concluded that the coach's conduct constituted participation in the prayers in which the students were engaged. As a result, the School District issued a directive to the coach prohibiting him from participating, or his behavior would be considered insubordination, and the coach filed a lawsuit in response.
A federal court ruled that the directives issued by the school were overbroad and vague and violated the coach's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech, free association and academic freedom and NJ constitutional rights to liberty and free speech. The school district appealed that decision to the Third Circuit.
ADL participated as amicus in the litigation.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.