A Florida middle school coach was reprimanded by the school district for taking a knee while his team huddled for prayer before a game.
Coach Eddie Metcalf of the Wakulla Middle School was caught on video taking a knee with his team as one of the members prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Apparently, the video was uploaded to Facebook, where it caught the attention of the nonprofit atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF sent a complaint to the school saying Metcalf’s participation in the prayer was an act of promoting a religion, which is unconstitutional and a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment,” according to Fox News.
“Coach Metcalf’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel told the school district.
In response to FFRF’s complaint, school superintendent Robert Pearce reprimanded Metcalf and reminded him of the regulations in the school handbook, which says personnel are not to have “unlawful participation” in such activities.
Pearce pointed out that the handbook specifies “kneeling with students in prayer or joining hands with students in a prayer circle” is not allowed. He communicated these to Metcalf through a “Letter of Professional Guidance,” according to WCTV.
"That's not allowable under the law," he explained. "The coach may not participate in the prayer. He may not kneel with the players. He may not put his hands on a player during a prayer."
Pearce warned Metcalf he would be disciplined if a similar issue should arise. He recommended that, to avoid a brush against the law, Metcalf and other coaches of Wakulla Middle School stand about two or three steps away from the team during prayer. This way, they are “separated” from the players.
"What we want our coaches to do and what most people have survived with in regards to meeting the letter of the law - is to have separation from the players - two to three steps," Pearce said. "You are allowed to have reverent respect for their prayer."
In defense of Metcalf, some parents said the coach does not deserve the reprimand because he did not lead the prayer and did not even join the prayer verbally; he merely took a knee with his team.
Among them was Jeremy Smith, who told the school board that Metcalf’s action was no different from when school leaders bow their heads during prayer at graduation ceremonies. He said Metcalf did not endorse his faith.
"All should be able to have that right," Smith said. "They are not teaching. They are not spreading their faith. They are just exercising their First Amendment right to simply pray."
Smith believed the school had violated Metcalf’s constitutional right
"I believe in the separation between church and state,” Smith said. “However, I think that the first amendment clause has been taken to such an extreme that it actually inhibits the right if the individual. They are not government property. They are constitutionally provided their amendment rights and I think it's being infringed upon."