In the case of Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a coach’s participation in a pre-game prayer with his football team violated the establishment clause under the endorsement test.
The case involved prayer activities that had continued for a number of years. The coach would join his players by bowing his head and taking a knee with the team while they prayed. The coach’s participation was in violation of school policy prohibiting teachers and coaches from engaging in such activity. When the School District sought to force the coach from participating in the activity, he filed an injunctive action claiming violation of his First Amendment rights and that the policy was void as unconstitutionally vague. Ultimately the court ruled for the School District and that the coach was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when he bowed his head and took a knee as the team prayed.
This case is the latest in a line of cases that collectively hold that while student initiated and led prayer activities are permissible under the First Amendment, when teachers or coaches participate, depending on the specific facts involved, it can lead to an impression of endorsement of religion, therefore, should not occur. The court noted that students may continue to voluntarily pray together provided it is not done with school participation or supervision.