Prayer before football games leads to investigation
Community shows support for Coach.
JASPER, Mo. – An investigation within Jasper School District follows a complaint alleging Head Football Coach Joey Ballard led players in prayer before games.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school district on behalf of the parent of a player.
The foundation argues that it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer, citing Supreme Court cases that have struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.
They cite cases such as Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 308 (2000), and Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962).
“In each of these cases, the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves but also from participating in students’ prayers,” says the foundation in the letter. “We ask that Jasper R-5 School District commence an investigation into the complaint alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any District athletic programs.”
The parent that filed the complaint, who wishes to remain anonymous, says in a statement,
“I am simply asking my son’s school district to follow the law. The state of Missouri isn’t paying coach Ballard to be a preacher. He is being paid to coach high school football. If he wants to preach, there are plenty of churches that would love to have him. But it is not appropriate for him to use his position of authority to evangelize to students. If this same coach were Muslim and teaching kids how to pray to Allah, the Christians around here would protest in the streets. In the same way, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye simply because he’s Christian. This needs to end.”
But Jasper Football player Noah Neher and his mother Rebecca Graham say Ballard isn’t just a great coach, but a great guy.
“I could not ask more of a man. Honestly. He has done great things for this community,” says Neher.
“We love coach Joey. As a community we love him, but as a family we really enjoy him,” says Graham.
That’s part of why they’re showing their support for him. Graham is making T-Shirts that say “I stand with Coach Ballard,” and Noah says he isn’t religious but doesn’t mind the practice.
“He lets me go off and sit to the side. Anyone else that wants to. It’s not a forced thing. Never has been, never will be. I mean, coaches before him have done it,” says Neher.
“Living in Southwest Missouri, prayer is huge in our community and the communities that surround us. And it’s just something that we do,” says Graham.
“It brings them together as a team. More than a team, as a family really,” says resident Michaela Richardson.
“It is quite a common thing. For some reason, there’s just some connection, particularly as you go into the south, between football and religion,” says Line during an interview. “And yet, that doesn’t make it okay.”
Jasper School District Superintendent Christina Hess says in a prepared statement, “This is an ongoing investigation involving personnel, and therefore will not be discussed. We are following the advice of legal counsel.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is an organization based in Madison, Wisconsin that advocates for the separation of church and state.
The full letter can be found below.
(Updated to include comments from residents in Jasper.)