Nearly 222 years after its adoption, the First Amendment still sparks passionate debate over precisely what its framers intended with the amendment’s language prohibiting laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and banning impediments to the “free exercise thereof.” That was the case again late last month after Pasco Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning sent a memo to high school principals reminding them of the school district’s policy on prayer.
The district, in response to various court rulings, allows students to pray at schools outside of instructional settings only if students initiate and lead the prayer. No teachers or other district personnel are allowed to lead prayers when acting in their official capacity. Browning’s memo, which generated a bit of a social media tempest against the superintendent, was a response to some Pasco football coaches leading pre-game prayers.
Browning says he is a man of Christian faith and has no interest in impeding students from expressing their religious faith. On the other hand, he says, he is obligated to enforce the district’s ban on teacher-led prayer, if for no other reason than it protects the coaches from complaints that they are, in effect, coercing their players into praying.
It has long been our view that America has become a highly diverse place when it comes to spiritual views and as a practical matter organized prayer is best left to private arenas — even if the authors of the First Amendment probably would have no trouble with pre-game prayers lead by public high school football coaches.
Given that, we see nothing wrong with Browning’s prayer policy reminder.