A young man crosses the goaline and points to the heavens. A coach kneels in prayer after a game. These are common scenes across the nation on Friday nights in the fall. Football and faith have gone hand-in-hand for decades, but many are starting to question religion’s place on the gridiron.
On Oct. 17, New York high school quarterback Dante Turo scored a touchdown before pointing to the sky, in an attempt to take the attention from himself and give it to God. The referees saw it a different way. Turo’s act drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Washington assistant high school football coach Joe Kennedy had a postgame ritual that involved him kneeling in prayer at the 50-yard line. When players started joining him, however, district officials felt this action violated the separation of church and state. Kennedy was ordered to stop, but continued praying after each game. On Oct. 28, the school district placed Kennedy on administrative leave.
Separation of church and state is a good thing. In a free, democratic society, no one should be forced into religion. In the same way, however, nobody should be kept from practicing their faith.
The First Amendment prohibits government-sponsored religious activity. But it also protects the rights of individuals who act privately. Turo didn’t hand out Bibles to his opponents after he scored a touchdown. He simply pointed to the sky. Kennedy didn’t lead devotionals with his players. He merely knelt in private prayer. These individuals exercised their constitutional rights for religious expression and were reprimanded for it.
Critics will say that religion has no place on the football field. What they don’t understand is that faith isn’t something you can turn off and on like a light switch. Your religion is an extension of who you are and it permeates all aspects of your life. So to ask a teenager not to give credit to God when he scores a touchdown or to ask a coach not to pray for his players is not only unconstitutional, but it’s also discriminatory.