Religious Groups Oppose N.J. Coach’s Prayer Policy

A coalition of religious groups is urging a federal appeals court to bar a New Jersey high school football coach from praying with students.

Led by The Interfaith Alliance, a diverse array of religious organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opposing a high school football coach’s practice of kneeling and bowing his head during his team’s prayers.

Last summer, U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh ruled in Borden v. East Brunswick School District that Coach Marcus Borden could participate in student-led prayers before games without violating church-state separation.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is representing the East Brunswick school district in asking the 3rd Circuit to reverse Cavanaugh’s ruling.

In late December, The Interfaith Alliance filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the school district. Groups joining the brief included the Union for Reform Judaism, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“When (prayer) is student-led and initiated, The Interfaith Alliance and many for the other groups that signed onto our brief have no problem with it,” said Preetmohan Singh, deputy director of public policy for The Interfaith Alliance. “But a teacher as a government entity participating? That’s when you run into the state establishment of religion.”

The Interfaith Alliance also criticized Borden’s argument that kneeling and bowing his head during team prayer did not constitute praying on his part. The Alliance’s press release said the coach’s viewpoint is “disingenuous and insulting to sincere religious adherents.”