WEST POINT, N.Y. — The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has pulled a postgame prayer video from its social media page following a complaint from a church-state separation group and is investigation whether the prayer was violative of the rights of players.
According to reports, after West Point’s football team defeated Temple University on Friday, the athletics department posted a video of the locker room celebration to social media. The video allegedly included footage of West Point head coach Jeff Monken asking a staff member to lead the group in prayer.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), led by Mikey Weinstein, soon contacted West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen to assert that the prayer was inappropriate. Weinstein claims he received 90 complaints over the mater.
On Monday, the video was removed and replaced with edited footage that only shows the group saying “amen.”
“Maybe 90 percent of the people who were out there supported the prayer,” Caslen told the Washington Post. “But, when you look at it from a legal basis and from a legal standpoint, and then you look at it from a leadership standpoint, there were some concerns, and I think they’re valid concerns.”
“It creates an atmosphere where it is expected from everybody to say a prayer regardless of their faith or no faith,” he stated. “It’s like me as the superintendent of the Corps of Cadets saying, ‘Let’s take a knee and say a prayer together.’ I don’t have the authority to do that. I cannot use my position of authority—my public position of authority—to direct my subordinates to do something that is inconsistent with their rights. So, that’s probably where we crossed the line.”
Caslen said that Monken would apologize to the team.
“[E]verybody in that room should feel comfortable that they were not under coercion to say that prayer,” he stated. “There’s a way to make that happen with the chaplain, and an invitation without a coercive effect and without showing reprisal against some of the other people that had elected not to participate. That’s the proper way to do that.”
But some are concerned about the development and have launched a petition drive to ensure that the prayers will continue.
“I am concerned that instead of instilling leadership or imparting warfighting skill, our U.S. military training apparatus is now focused on editing out the religious practices of its cadets,” said Lt. Gen. (Retired) Jerry Boykin of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.
Over 18,500 people have signed FRC’s petition as of press time.
“I the undersigned, urge you to assure Coach Jeff Monken and the entire coaching staff and cadets at the United States Military Academy that it is entirely appropriate and legal for coaches and players to practice the free exercise of their religious freedom,” it reads. “West Point is one of America’s most respected institutions, and should never become a pawn in the hands of anti-faith activists who attack the faith of our nation’s warriors and future warriors.”