New Jersey Coach’s Prayers Provoke Controversy

Debate over religion and public schools erupted in East Brunswick, N.J., when officials ordered a high school football coach to stop leading his players in prayer.

In October, following complaints from students and parents and advice from a district attorney, School Superintendent Jo Ann Magistro told East Brunswick High School football coach Marcus Borden to stop praying with his players. Borden quit his coaching job, only to rescind his resignation days later.

Borden retained an attorney who, according to the Associated Press, told the coach he needed to remain an employee of the school district if he wanted to have standing to challenge the order to stop praying with his players.

The school agreed to give Borden his job back, but only after he promised he would not pray with his players. School officials noted that public school students may voluntarily pray during their own time, but prayer cannot be organized or encouraged by faculty or staff.

An East Brunswick High School graduate wrote in a column for The Star-Ledger, a New Jersey daily, in favor of the school district’s efforts to adhere to the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.

“Our constitutional democracy wisely limits the conduct of public school officials in these areas,” wrote Kyle G. Volk, now a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, “and it does so not only to protect those who are vocally in the minority but also those who are too fearful of the very real ramifications of stating their dissenting position.”

Supt. Magistro also expressed concern for the students who noted the improper activities of Borden.

“I respect Coach Borden and his principles,” Magistro said, “but the kids who came forward are not being treated with the same respect. They have principles also and they have feelings, but instead they are being taunted now.”