The Field of Pray
In Engel, the Court declared the daily, voluntary recitation of the New York Regent's Prayer, which reads as follows, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country," in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The 6-1 decision looked beyond the non-denominational nature of the prayer and its voluntary recitation, given that it was officially endorsed by a governmental entity.
In Sante Fe, a Texas school district's policy that allowed students to elect a chaplain and also to decide whether or not a non-denominational prayer was recited prior to high school football games over the public address system was nullified. The fact that the government was an actor in terms of the organization, venue, and sponsorship proved its fatal flaw according to the 6-3 majority.
Yesterday's denial leaves us without an underlying rationale, but we might assume that the aforementioned precedents speak for themselves. The plaintiff, former football coach Marcus Borden, used to bow his head and kneel while his team prayed before it took the field. Given that he was a paid employee of a school district using taxpayer dollars, he is a governmental representative and thus provided legitimacy to student-led prayer.
I must confess that during my former life as a high school basketball coach that I encountered similar circumstances, but was not as well-versed in First Amendment jurisprudence as I am now. While my team initiated a prayer on the way out of the locker room prior to each game, I lingered on the side until they were finished, neither encouraging or discouraging their actions. I am a man of faith and as a player participated in such rituals, but a gray area emerged with my new duties as a coach, and I decided to error on the side of caution.
Call it blind luck or skilled prognostication, but nearly a decade later I stand on the side of settled law.