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Have ye no faith, Sports?

POSTED: August 16, 2014 9:00 a.m.
Joel Samuelson, Lory Kaun/Barrow County News

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Well this sure has been an interesting week.

We could talk about any number of things, really, with the rise of a police-state in Missouri and the launch of the SEC Network, two perfectly compatible ideas, dominating headlines all over the country.

We could look at either of those topics, but there is one more somewhat national sports subject that I want to talk about, and this one sits pretty close to home.

If you haven’t heard by now, the football program at Chestatee High School is coming under attack for violations of the Constitutional variety because the coaches were allegedly leading prayer.

As citizens of the United States, the Constitution ought to be our most revered legal document and civil doctrine. In this case, humanist groups are pointing to the first amendment and declaring Chestatee High School in violation.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of my readers are not scholars versed in Constitutional law. In case you were curious…I most certainly am not a scholar versed in Constitutional law.

Still, we are all allotted to our opinions. Many of you will vehemently say that the students at Chestatee High School deserve the option to pray as they see fit. Well, they have that option. The case in question is in no way looking to remove the student right to prayer. If it were, then it would have no case as student prayer is a firmly supported right.

The question comes in to play, though, if coaches are allowed to lead prayer as they are acting as agents of the government. Since coaches at public high schools are government employees, they are treated as an extension of the government and therefore are not allowed to publically espouse religion in most contexts.

This is a problem, folks. This doctrine of implied government agency is where we really run into trouble. See, there are two parts to the freedom of religion clause in the first amendment. The first part says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The second part complicates that by saying, “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This second clause is what allows students to pray, as government cannot restrict their exercise of religion, but the first clause is what prevents coaches from leading prayer. They are considered government agents, which sounds way more Agent Mulder than it does Coach Smith.

So, are government agents not allowed the free exercise of religion? Are coaches, because they work for the government, not allowed free exercise of religion?

Let me pause right here and say this. I don’t know.

As a Christian, my gut instinct says that coaches should be allowed free exercise of religion. Then again, as a Christian, my secondary gut (no laughing) tells me something else.

Although it may be silly to think of a coach as a government agent in any sense of the term, a coach’s word is law on the field. You do not question a coach, and especially not a football coach. If a football coach leads the team in prayer, no matter how optional it may be, no football player on that field is going to be dumb enough to speak up and say he doesn’t want to take part in prayer.

Also, when coaches start leading prayer and marking themselves as religious figures, we have to ask ourselves if we really want football coaches to be the spokesmen of religion. After all, how many times have you heard a football coach use language unbefitting a preacher?

I grew up with a preacher, and I can assure you I never heard him talk like I’ve heard most football coaches talk.

This is not to say that all coaches are abhorrent creatures, no. I’ve dealt with many coaches who were kind and genuine people, but they’re human.

Finally, I have to ask myself this question. If a football coach were leading my son in a prayer for some faith not his own, would I be okay with that? I would hope that my son would have enough wisdom in his faith to simply and calmly step to the side, but that doesn’t change the fact that a coach’s potentially divisive actions have put him in that position.

That is the key, too. These actions are potentially divisive in that it can split a team into believers and non-believers. If you’re a Christian, you should ask yourself if that’s what you want. I, for one, don’t believe we should ever want faith to divide people like that.

Then again, on top of all those reasons that a coach should think twice before leading team prayer, even when ignoring the possible legal repercussions, I can see so many reasons why a coach would be remiss not to lead prayer for his team.

Every single football coach I have talked to has said that their priority is to build men of character. Every last one of them.

What kind of character does it take, then, for a man to believe one thing and never let it show on the football field?

If a football coach is trying to build men of character, and he is also a Christian, does it not seem to follow that he would want to impart certain values to his team and to the individual young men he mentors? Wouldn’t it be in poor character if he didn’t try to impart certain values, whether or not they’re faith-based?

It seems that the law is requiring hypocrisy of Bible-believing coaches. You can lead a team, you can try to build men of character, but your personal convictions and religious beliefs, which are what make you a man of character, can have no part in this moral education.

Part of the case against Chestatee involves certain passages of scripture that are included in team documents and insignia, but this is the part of the case least likely to be altered in any way, shape or form. Do you know what verses they chose?

The Chestatee football team chose to be represented by the verses Galatians 6:9 and Proverbs 27:17. If you don’t know them (neither did I, I had to look them up), the first says “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” The second says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Schools and school groups can use popular sayings to teach, and that’s what is happening with these verses. They are used not as religious texts, but rather as encouraging aphorisms. It’s no different than a t-shirt quoting Vince Lombardi or Richard Simmons, though I can’t imagine a Richard Simmons quote inspiring too many high school football players with the same authority.

Then again, I have to ask myself if I would be okay with a different religion’s text being used on something my son would wear or support. I can’t answer that honestly. I don’t know.

Should someone lose their job over this fiasco? No. Should coaches be forbidden from praying with their students? I, for one, don’t think so. Should they reconsider who leads the prayers? Probably, if only for the sake of preserving the peace and saving the school system tons of money in legal fees.

As with most big, important ideas, the Chestatee case is best handled with slow consideration and calm, reasonable debate. My main concern is that people will flock to make what is happening at Chestatee a rallying cry for either atheist humanism or Christian liberty when it should be viewed as an opportunity to discuss policy and how laws are shaping our country and our culture.


I hope and pray that we can come out of this mess with a new understanding for what it means to employ faith in America, whether you’re a football coach or just a humble sports writer. 



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