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ERIC Number: EJ1007014
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-1066-2847
Religion in the Locker Room
Price, Sean
Teaching Tolerance, v52 n43 p35-37 Spr 2013
In September 2011, Paul Phillips stepped out of his football team's field house and into a struggle over the separation of church and state. Like most teams, Paul's practiced after school. But one day he found that the coach had called in a local minister to conduct a weekly half-hour "team chapel" before practice. Paul, who does not believe in God, knew that the law would be on his side if he complained. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools may not endorse prayers or religious activities. Team chapel would surely fit in this category, but Paul worried about what his coach, a deeply committed Christian, might do if he found out about Paul's beliefs. Paul knew that most of his teammates had no problem with the coach inviting a minister to talk about God at school; some would even be angry at anyone who tried to stop it. Religious minorities in public schools face situations like Paul's every day, and student athletes face them more often than most. Why? In part because the conservative culture of many athletic programs is slow to accept legal changes--or the increasing religious diversity of the United States. Also, some coaches may feel that religion is a good--if not the only--way to bring out the best qualities in young athletes. Legally speaking, U.S. public schools should be more religiously neutral than ever. Yet it is easy to find schools that routinely defy the Supreme Court's rulings. Even when students question these traditions, determined schools find ways to skirt the Constitution. For instance, when Paul's father complained to the principal about team chapel, the coach moved it off campus and declared it voluntary but continued to hold it at the same time each week. Paul opted to skip the team chapel sessions. But, he says, there was still an underlying coercion to the situation. Because of his non-religious worldview, he was forced to skip the weekly school-sponsored religious event held during instructional time and attended by most of his other teammates. After the school district received a letter from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State explaining why off-campus team chapel was still unconstitutional, district officials told the coach that he was to have no role in the weekly meetings and that they must be completely student run.
Southern Poverty Law Center. 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104. Tel: 334-956-8200; Fax: 334-956-8484; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A