Americans United Will Represent New Jersey School District In Lawsuit Over Football Coach's Prayers

Civil Liberties Group To Handle Appeal In Federal Court Pro Bono

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has agreed to represent a New Jersey school district being sued by a football coach who wants to take part in religious activity with players.

Football coach Marcus Borden sued the East Brunswick School District last year after school officials told him to stop participating in prayer and other religious activities with players. In court, Borden asserted that his right to free expression had been violated.

In an oral opinion issued from the bench last month, U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh ruled in Borden’s favor. Religious Right groups have since claimed that the ruling gives coaches the right to pray with students. The decision also raises the question whether other school employees may participate in prayer with students.

Americans United asserts that Cavanaugh’s ruling is out of step with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on religion in public schools and has asked the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn his decision.

“Public school students have the right to pray on their own, but public school officials, including coaches, have no right to intervene in the religious lives of young people,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Coerced religion makes some students uncomfortable and usurps parental rights.”

Officials at the East Brunswick district said they took action after receiving complaints about Borden’s actions from parents. Their goal is to make sure the school system is welcoming to students of all faiths as well as to students who do not profess a religion.

Americans United will represent the school district on a pro bono basis. The appeal will be handled by Richard Katskee, AU’s assistant legal director, in cooperation with the school district’s attorney, Martin Pachman.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.