After coach Scott Spahr was photographed standing at center court and praying with his girls' basketball team at Morristown Elementary School in Indiana on Dec. 1, he was asked to stop participating in team prayer circles when school officials received an email from the American Humanist Association Friday, citing that the coach's presence was "a constitutional violation."
Members of the opposing team and other adults from Waldron Elementary also were praying in the photo, and principals at that school also received the email from the association, according to ABC News.
Spahr agreed to stop participating in the prayer circle after being notified of the complaints. But told ABC the prayer circles always had been player-led and that the circles would continue without him.
AHA's website indicates the indicates the Washington, D.C.-based group's mission is to "bring about a progressive society where being good without God is an accepted and respected way to live life."
ABC News staffers indicated they obtained a copy of the email written by the association's legal director David Niose, which stated: "staff participation in prayers with students at school events is impermissible as it conveys an endorsement of religion and creates a coercive atmosphere where children may feel pressured to participate in religious activity."
According to ABC News, Spahr was "dumbfounded" by AHA's reaction. As coach of the Yellowjackets for six seasons, Spahr said the prayer circle was a tradition before he arrived, that his students invited him into the circle and that the AHA misinterpreted the incident.
He also said the students now were confused about why the circle was an issue.
The coach said his team invited Waldron players to pray with them at the end of the game to see how large they could make the circle and to express thanks about no one being injured in the game.
Niose maintains the intent was not to shut down the prayers, according to ABC News. "But it is interesting that these prayer circles are asserted so much in public schools. We do question if these prayer circles are always student-initiated. How often do students at a pickup game on the playground pray before a game?" he reportedly stated.
Spahr said circle time is actually reflection time for each player. "It's not about one person or one religion. It's about the players themselves."
Morristown Elementary is part of the Shelby Eastern School Corporation. Morristown is located 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis and is home to approximately 300 students in grades preschool through fifth grade.