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High court won't hear appeal from coach seeking to pray with team

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today refused to hear an appeal from a high school football coach who wants to bow his head and kneel during prayers led by his players despite a school district policy prohibiting it.

By turning away the case, the justices effectively ended Marcus Borden's fight against the East Brunswick, N.J., school district's policy that forbids him and other staff members from joining in student-led prayer. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia sided with the district.

The high court declined to weigh in on whether Borden's desire to bow his head silently and "take a knee" with his football players violates the First Amendment's prohibition on government endorsement of religion. Borden claimed such gestures were secular.

The school district said Borden, the East Brunswick coach since 1983, had a long history of leading prayers before he was ordered to stop. The district says the issue is whether its policy is constitutional, not Borden's actions.

The 3rd Circuit agreed that the school district policy was constitutional, but the judges differed on what exactly the coach should do when his team prayed.

The Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer in 1962 when it found in Engel v. Vitale that schools can’t direct that a prayer be said at the beginning of each school day. The justices reaffirmed the decision in several subsequent rulings, most recently in its 2000 decision Santa Fe Indep. School District v. Doe. The Court ruled that the Texas school district was giving the impression of prayer sponsorship by letting students use loudspeakers for pre-game prayers under the direction of faculty members.

Messages left for Borden and lawyer Ronald Riccio were not immediately returned today.

"Coaches are not supposed to be promoting religion; that's up to students and parents and pastors," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school district.

The case is Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick, 08-482.

N.J. coach can't kneel, bow head as team prays, 3rd Circuit says
Reversing lower court ruling, three-judge panel finds school board's policy barring staff from joining in student-led prayer is constitutional. 04.16.08


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ACLU had threatened to sue, saying that when teachers or coaches lead prayer, it becomes school endorsement of religion. 01.22.05

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Gerald Marszalek claims in lawsuit that his contract wasn't renewed in 2008 because of his Christian beliefs and his association with proselytizing former assistant coach. 07.28.09

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Michelle Ammons claims her 16-year-old son was baptized without her knowledge; superintendent, who attended service, says trip was voluntary. 09.08.09

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Spectators at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe game express support for cheerleaders, free speech with their own signs. 10.06.09

Loss for coach is win for students' religious liberty
By Gene Policinski High court's refusal to hear Marcus Borden's appeal reaffirms that teachers, other school officials may not impose beliefs on students. 03.08.09

Teachers' religious liberties

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