Prayer on the Playing Field; football coach says he was let go for letting players pray

From KVOA TUCSON – A local public high school football coach said he was let go after letting his players pray on the field.

Outraged, he spoke out. But administrators said he may have stepped over the line.

Catalina Foothills High School volunteer freshmen football coach Gary Weiss said he was instructed to tell his players to stop praying before and after games or he would be let go. He refused. Now he says he’s out of a job.

“My concern is the rights of the kids to do what is their right to do,” said Weiss.

But the school district said that voluntary and student led prayer is permitted. As recently as Friday, varsity players did pray, as captured and shared on social media.

The district disallows staff members from organizing or promoting such activity.

“Nothing limits the authority of the school/district to maintain order and discipline on school premises, to protect the well-being of students, and to assure that participation in such an activity is voluntary on the part of student,” said District superintendent Dr. Mary Kamerzell.

The U.S. Department of Education has similar rules restricting coaches from prayer, because public school employees are representatives of the state while they are on the job.

But Weiss maintains, that didn’t happen.

“No other adult in the freshmen program led the kids in prayer,” said Weiss.

The coach said that students’ participation was unanimous and inclusive.

“The prayers of the freshmen team have been recited by Muslim kids, Jewish kids, and Christian kids,” said Weiss.

Parents want to be sure the ultimate decision is made by the players.

“I don’t believe in religion and I’d rather have my kids not praying, but it’s up to them,” said parent Alex Van Niekerk.

Weiss even tried to show up for practice today, but said he was asked to leave school property.

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