FORT BRANCH — A national nonprofit organization claims the South Gibson School Corp. violated students' First Amendment rights when football coaches were pictured praying with students after a football game.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter and email on Nov. 30 to South Gibson Superintendent Stacey Humbaugh stating that a concerned community member reached out to them to report the Gibson Southern High School staff prayed with student athletes after their Nov. 2 football game against Reitz Memorial High School at GSHS.
The nonprofit asked that the school corporation open an investigation and take proper action.
Humbaugh declined to answer questions about the letter and issue. She said they have so many other things going on that they will turn this issue over to their legal counsel.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, public schools won’t promote or belittle religious or nonreligious beliefs in programs, and student or staff members are not required to participate in practices that don’t align with the religious beliefs.
The picture of coaches praying with student athletes was included in the nonprofit organization’s news release. The picture’s caption states: This is how two of the best football programs in Southern Indiana complete a game...the power of prayer (with praying hands/hi-five and American flag emojis) — at Gibson County, Indiana.
“The coaches’ conduct in the enclosed photograph is unconstitutional because they endorse and promote religion when acting in their official capacity as school district representatives,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne via news release. “When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the district’s behalf.”
Many GSHS parents and students have taken to Facebook to respond to the foundation’s letter, talk about how they don’t think that athletes were forced to pray by coaches and they hope to continue to see prayer at games.
One GSHS student said that not one person was forced to participate and coaches didn’t lead the prayer.
According to the news release, a similar complaint was filed against Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation last year.