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March 3, 2009

Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a high school football coach who was banned from bowing his head during student-led team prayers.

Without comment Monday, the nation's highest court ended Coach Marcus Borden's efforts to overturn a township decision that as a public employee, Borden cannot mix religion with his work as a coach.


The high court's decision leaves intact a federal appeals court's April decision that Borden's desire to bow his head and take a knee during team prayer is an endorsement of religious activity at a public school.

Neither Borden, who has been the football coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, nor his attorney, Ronald Riccio, could be reached for comment.

Borden has been fighting for the right to bow and kneel in prayer with his team since November 2005, when he filed a federal lawsuit arguing the school district's regulations were overly broad. He won a U.S. District Court ruling in July 2006 in which a judge decided those rules were unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed at the appellate level.

Riccio asked the Supreme Court in October to review the appeals court decision, arguing then that Borden's case was of national importance because "it addresses what public school educators are permitted to say and do when public school students engage in religious
activities in their presence."

Richard Katskee, an attorney with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the board of education in court, said in a prepared statement that "children have a clear right to attend public schools without religious pressures being brought to bear by
school personnel."

"Coach Borden was out of bounds, and the courts were right to blow the whistle," Katskee said. "I hope that other coaches and school personnel learn a lesson from this."

Todd Simmens, president of the East Brunswick Board of Education, in the same statement said "public school officials simply may not engage with students in religious activity."

"The board of education and district officials have, throughout this case, made certain no school employee supervises or otherwise participates in any type of prayer with our students," Simmens said. "Needless to say, the board is pleased that, in this case, the courts reaffirmed this long-standing constitutional principle."

The school district said Borden had a long history of leading prayers before he was ordered to stop after complaints from some parents. Borden resigned as coach in protest of the school board ruling in 2005, but rescinded the resignation within a week and hired Riccio to represent him in his quest to coach the team the way he had for more than two decades.


Look, praying with students is what private Christian schools are for. Educators employed by the state must remain neutral, as far as is reasonably possible, in matters of religious practice. It pains me to see a coach torn from his team as they bend their knees, but that is the price of state-funded education with a state that does not endorse any established religion.

I wonder if the coach would have been criticized he had honored his team's decision to recite a muslim or hindu prayer.

On board with you Brendan. It is not the job of anyone but the parents first and foremost to involve their kids with spiritual things, then secondly the church.

Does such behavior give nonChristians a positive witness or is it seen as a public spectacle?

We have totally lost all common sense and reason in such matters. Congress starts with a prayer, even our new president whom I have to wonder what he believes had Rick Warren to pray and even in Jesus name!!! This nation is just now seeing the start of most difficult times due to our turning our back on God. Coaches pray with the kids, and tell the PC police to get over it, you may lose your job, but you will be right with God.

Although the constitution invokes God, the government wants nothing to do with the God of the founding fathers of the nation, for the sake of impartiality. Considering the odds against religion in government institutions like public schools, I believe that faith is something that parents should pass on to their children, and nurture, as they grow. This is our responsibility as parents, and we cannot pass this on to others.

I wonder who the parents were who complained. Were the prayers helping "their" kids win or lose?

Brendan's comments that public employees must remain neutral is an opinion, but is not mentioned in the constitution. It certainly cannot be identified as "establishing a religion." We continue to stretch that old saw about 'separation of church and state' into something found nowhere in the constitution. Get over the idea of 'putiing pressure' on students. Where are all the bleeding hearts when it comes to the 'pressure' Chistian students are put under by high school and college teachers!

I was a student at EBHS and Borden was my coach for 3 years. I consider myself Agnostic. Although I had Christian influences growing up, I support a separation of religion and government policy, but I strongly disagree with the courts decision.

"children have a clear right to attend public schools without religious pressures being brought to bear byschool personnel."

While I attended... yes Borden did lead pre/mid game prayers... but at no time was their any pressure to participate. Borden was asked to no longer lead prayers... but if it was student lead, he should be allowed to bow or take a knee too. My younger brother also played under Borden and said that during his time there, those who did not want to participate would leave the locker room area. According to by brother, a Jewish parent made the complaints.

What I don't undertand is... why anyone of any religion would object to a pregame prayer. By definition a prayer is a 'an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought'... or to an Atheist a prayer can be defined as 'an earnest request or wish'.

I read that the Surpreme Court has banned student lead prayer in schools in the past. I've always viewed it has a positive wish for safety and strength and was a means to bring us together as a team.

Perhaps it should be called a pregame reflection from now on... and students and staff can pray in silence.

Gosh, am I reading comments on a Christian website? We have been duped by the long repeating of "separation of church and state" by those on the left. The coach is being prohibited from his "free exercise of religion". This is something that the Constitution declares that the government must not do.

How about if the team captain (if he's so inclined)]would lead the prayer? Would this be OK or illegal

My question is this: as a Christian parent, how would you feel if the football coach was a Muslim and prayed to Allah before a game? Would you object? Should a Jewish child have to bow his head and pray to Jesus in order to be a part of the team?

As a parent it is my choice what my child is taught about religion. I would be irate if a teacher of another religion began to interject into their lessons their own personal religious beliefs.

The idea of separation of church and state is to protect the right of each individual to practice his or her religion or not to practice religion at all. No one should be afraid to send their child to a public school where some teacher or administrator presses their own personal brand of religion.

It is this protection that is true to the founding of this nation.

Welcome to Amerika' comrades... (God help us!)

I don't have a problem with keeping a coach from leading the prayer. I do have a problem with keeping a coach from participating.