Superintendent Responds to Claims of Football Coach Violations - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Superintendent Responds to Claims of Football Coach Violations

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(Photo credit: Dave Frederick) (Photo credit: Dave Frederick)
LEWES, Del. - Close to two weeks after the Cape Henlopen School District received a warning from an advocacy group about a potential violation of  Separation of Church and State, the Superintendent is now making a statement, prompting some criticisms from school board members. 

The debate began on Oct. 8, when the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Superintendent Bob Fulton, saying Cape football coach Bill Collick was breaking the law by praying with team before games. In response many Sussex County residents came to Collick's defense, saying he was merely participating in a student-run prayer. 

Fulton's response said the district will now remind all coaches and teachers that prayer is not allowed in school-events, including sporting events. But some school board members spoke out against this response, saying Collick did nothing wrong. 

"I can assure you that our employees including coaches will be reminded of laws involving the separation of Church and State," Fulton said in the letter. "And will respond accordingly so that an objective/reasonable observer will not perceive their actions as endorsing religion in the future."

In response, school board member Sandi Minard said she was disappointed in Fulton's letter. 

"The community has overwhelmingly supported Coach Collick," she said. "And for us to allow a scare tactic group from Wisconsin to come in and tell us what we are going to do is unbelievable." 

The foundation's attorney Elizabeth Cavell said that the warning had legal backing, from past court cases.

"It's not appropriate," she said. "And it's not legal." 

Cavell's initial letter to Fulton referenced various court cases to set precedence. 

In Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick, the court found that a football coach had "violated the Establishment Clause by 'bow[ing] his head and tak[ing] a knee while his team pray[ed].'"

In another case, Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District, the court found it unconstitutional for a basketball coach to participate in student prayer circles, calling it an "endorsement of religion." 

"They're endorsing that religious practice," Cavell said of coach participation. "And that crosses the line and violates the establishment clause. So they're giving the appearance that they approve of and they endorse these activities by participating and showing solidarity with students who are doing it." 

A block away from the high school, WBOC met with Pastor Dave Munro from the First Baptist Church in Lewes. He said stopping Collick from participating in a student-run prayer would go beyond protecting the Separation of Church and State, and would instead hurt Collick's first amendment rights to practice a religion.

"I think he has the personal right to exercise his religion," he said. "To lean in and listen to the students. It would seem to me that if he were restricted from doing that, then his personal rights would be violated."
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