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
The Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer in 1962 when it found in
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
"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.