It is an article of faith among Religious Right activists that the supposed persecution of Christians in America is rooted in a series of Supreme Court decisions banning government-sponsored prayer in schools, rulings which they blame for everything from school shootings to crime and HIV/AIDS.
But the mostly fundamentalist Protestant leadership of the Religious Right rarely talk about the possibility that if such bans were lifted, the state could require prayer not to their liking.
As Think Progress reports today, one varsity softball coach at a Mesa, Arizona, public school has been hit with a lawsuit for requiring his players to participate in Mormon-led prayers…and, unsurprisingly, we have heard no evangelical conservatives complaining that the lawsuit represents religious persecution of the coach.
Three athletes alleged in a complaint against the school district [PDF] that they “were penalized for not conducting ‘team prayer’ in accordance with the directive of Joseph Goodman,” the team’s Mormon coach.
They argued in their complaint that the coach took disciplinary actions against them for “not being members of the LDS Church” and their unwillingness to “accede to having and allowing student-led group ‘team prayer.’”
Mesa was founded by Mormons and has a large Mormon community, so it is no surprise that when a team decided to have a prayer, it was skewed toward the Mormon tradition. Even generic, non-sectarian generic prayers organized by public schools can undermine the free exercise of religious and non-religious students alike.
This case provides yet another reminder that if the Religious Right gets its wish of lifting the constitutional prohibition of official public school prayers, not all schools would adopt the prayers that they themselves would choose.
25. Terry Richardson, along with another parent, Kelly Roberts (also an LDS Church member) expected that ‘team prayer’ would be part of the activities of the team prior to the games.
26. The expectation that there would be ‘team prayer’ was communicated to Joseph Goodman by LDS parents.
38. The Plaintiffs in fact were penalized for not conducting ‘team prayer’ in accordance with the directive of Joseph Goodman, acting for himself and at the behest of certain parents that were part of the LDS Church.
39. The Plaintiffs in fact were penalized because the parents of certain LDS students on the team complained to Joseph Goodman about the speech and expressive speech of the Plaintiffs, which actual and expressive speech events were perfectly acceptable and within the bounds of a secular society and that of a public school system.
40. The Establishment Clause provides a right of freedom from religion in the public school system, whether during academic sessions, or, during extra-curricular activities.
41. By Defendants treating Plaintiffs in the foregoing manner, dismissing them from the Team for not conducting ‘team prayer,’ for utilizing certain speech and expressive speech through pop music, social media, and otherwise, the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Plaintiffs were violated.
62. The actions of the Defendant, Joseph Goodman, were based upon the Plaintiffs not being members of the LDS Church and who did not accede to having and allowing student-led group ‘team prayer.’