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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Group wants Pasco schools to end football team prayers

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Published:   |   Updated: July 11, 2014 at 06:24 AM

— Controversy over high school football coaches and prayer could be heating up again in Pasco County.

An attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin has asked Superintendent Kurt Browning to take steps to end any practice of coaches leading prayers or taking players to pre-game events at churches.

The attorney, Andrew L. Seidel, suggested in a July 1 letter to Browning that the Pasco County school district could open itself up to a lawsuit from students or parents if it doesn’t comply.

“We believe such a suit could be avoided if corrective action is taken by the district,” Seidel wrote.

Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the school district, said she was unsure why the foundation was bringing up the issue now, but said the district already took action.

“We did respond last year when it was brought to our attention,” Cobbe said.

The latest letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation renews a correspondence from last fall, when controversy erupted over Zephyrhills High football coach Reggie Roberts taking his team to area churches for pre-game meals and prayer.

At that time, Browning had sent a memorandum dated Sept. 26 to remind principals about the laws on prayer in public schools.

In essence, students are free to initiate and lead prayers during non-instructional time, but school employees can’t lead those prayers when they are acting in their official capacities.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation took notice of what was happening in Pasco after someone locally complained. The foundation wrote Browning on Oct. 8 to voice concerns and he replied on Oct. 24, saying the district was looking into the situation and would take appropriate action.

Seidel wrote in the latest letter, though, that the practice continued after that, with a local newspaper reporting of a Nov. 1 visit by Roberts and his team to a church.

Such a visit makes it appear “as though the district is endorsing the religious message of the church,” the attorney wrote.

Seidel said Thursday that the foundation is bringing the issue up again because it’s routine for the foundation to review files from its old cases to try to close them out. During that process, the foundation staff noticed the article about the dinner.

Now also was a good time to contact the district, he said, because football season soon will be underway again.

“We wanted to let them know it can’t be happening this football season or any football season,” he said.

Seidel ended his letter by asking that the foundation “be notified in writing of steps taken by the district in response to this letter so that we may notify our complainant.”

rblair@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1853

Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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