TEMPE, Ariz. — A high school football coach in Arizona has been suspended for two weeks for joining his team in prayer.
Tom Brittain is the head varsity coach for Tempe Preparatory Academy, a state funded charter school. According to reports, Brittain recently asked one of the players on his team to lead the group in prayer, and then joined the team as they thanked the Lord following a winning game.
Headmaster Dr. David Baum suspended Brittain for two games for his participation, asserting that he had violated the so-called separation of church and state.
“He is a man who likes to pray and I don’t object to that,” he told local television station KPHO. “Just, he can’t do that with our students. That’s the only prohibition.”
Baum is standing by his decision to suspend Brittain.
“I think I preserved the religious freedom of our students, who have to have the liberty to be able to practice or not practice their religion on our campus, without interference by adults,” he said.
But others state that it was wrong for Brittain to be punished over prayer.
“I think it’s outrageous,” area resident Keith Wibel told reporters. “Ray Rice gets two games for cold-cocking his fiancé and Tom Brittain gets two games for praying.”
Wibel was among those who wore a t-shirt and/or brought signs to last week’s homecoming game to show their support for the coach. Wibel’s shirt read “Let Tom Coach.” Students also tied a poster to the stands during the game, which read, “We believe in Coach Brittain.” Personal messages were also written on the poster, such as “I love you. God bless you, coach,” and “Thank you.” Some students drew a cross or shared Scripture.
As previously reported, a high school football coach in North Carolina was ordered to stop leading his team in prayer earlier this year when his practice was discovered by a prominent atheist organization. Officials with the Mooresville Graded School District told Mooresville High School football coach Hal Capps to stop praying with students after the Freedom from Religion Foundation asserted that his actions were unlawful.
“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to District Attorney Kevin Donaldson. “It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion.”
But a number of team members expressed their support for Capps’ prayers, using the Twitter hashtag #ISupportCapps.
“#ISupportCapps and he’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’m twice the guy and player I was when I came to Mooresville as a freshman,” Tweeted team member Dallas Jackson.
“Love my coach mane; he do a lot for me,” posted Dash Ingram. “Helping me with a lot of stuff mane! Coach Capps [is] the truth mane #ISupportCapps.”
Local residents likewise largely supported the coach.
“I believe what the Bible says,” Belvin Sherrill told WBTV. “It upsets that some people can just dictate what you do because of their beliefs and not take into consideration your own.”
“I think the man, the coach, should be able to pray with his players or anybody else that he wants too,” resident Betty Lambert also remarked to the outlet. “That’s our right; we as Christians have stood back too long.”