OWASSO, Okla. — Following receipt of a demand letter from a prominent atheist activist organization, an Oklahoma school district has advised that it has barred its baseball coaches—and any other district employee—from leading student prayers at school events.
As previously reported, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Owasso Public Schools Superintendent Clark Ogilivie last week, urging the district to put an end to alleged coach-led prayers at Owasso High School.
The organization specifically cited Coach Larry Turner, 56, who it accused of leading his team in prayer, as well as some of Turner’s assistant coaches. Turner was named the best high school baseball coach in the United States last year as he was dubbed the 2013 National Baseball Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations. He has won ten state championships over his 32-year tenure and averages 31 wins per season.
In addition to coaching youth at Owasso High School, Turner also focuses on teaching youth to be a blessing to society. According to reports, the team has supported the Special Olympics, visited war veterans and has spent time reading to children.
But FFRF states that it received a complaint about Turner’s prayers from a “concerned citizen,” and asserted that the prayers are a “serious violation of the First Amendment.”
“The coaches’ apparent organizing and obvious participation in a team prayer constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion,” a letter written by FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel stated.
He requested an investigation into the matter and that the district disallow coaches from leading prayers.
“Owasso Public Schools must take immediate action to ensure that coaches do not lead, organize, encourage or participate in prayers with their teams,” Seidel wrote. “We ask that the school district commence an immediate investigation into the complaints alleged and take immediate action to stop all school-sponsored prayers occurring at any district events.”
On Thursday, attorneys for the Owasso School District replied to Seidel, noting in a short response that employee participation in student prayers would not be permitted.
“I have been directed by Superintendent Ogilvie to advise you that the Owasso School District will not allow any district employees to participate with any district students in any prayer or other religious activities in connection with any school-sponsored events,” wrote attorney J. Douglas Mann of the law firm Rosenstein, Fist and Ringold.
While FFRF considers the outcome a victory on its part, there remains doubt as to whether any coaches truly led the Owasso High School baseball team in prayer.
“There is no coach lead, I can tell you that with 100 percent confidence,” athletic director Zach Duffield told Oklahoma’s News 9. “There have been no calls to the Owasso Athletic Department or the Owasso administration building objecting to anything that’s going on as far as any kind of prayer going on.”
He stated that he investigated the matter and found no sign of any prayers being led by coaches.