A football coach of over 20 years and one time recipient of the USA Today's "Caring Coach of the Year" award, has come under attack recently for his practice of holding prayer sessions with his students before games.
The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled unanimously Tuesday against coach Marcus Borden on the grounds that it was unconstitutional for him to pray and "bow his head and take a knee" alongside his students, in what, the court argued, would be an endorsement of religion by a school staff member.
Although a lower court ruled in favor of Borden back in 2006, arguing that Borden would be allowed to "take a knee" and "bow his head" with his students in a manner that showed "secular respect," the new ruling by the 3rd Circuit Court ensures that even the "bow" of a head by Borden would be unconstitutional.
Jo Ann Magistro, the school superintendent who pursued the case, was among those who were reportedly "pleased" with the ruling. She believes that it was merely an upholding of the school policy banning its employees from participating in prayer with students.
"The district pursued this case to protect children who could not protest pressure to participate in religious activities at school events," she said, according to The Home News Tribune.
"Today's ruling," she said after the ruling, "accomplished that goal. Every student is a valued member of our community and their religious beliefs, or lack there of, can never be used to separate them from their peers and teammates."
Conservative groups, however, described the ruling as a violation of constitutional rights.
"No school is justified in policing its employees' thoughts and penalizing them based on what they think is going on in their heads. What next? Will they bar coaches from silently moving their lips if others think it is a prayer?" the Family Research Council (FRC), a conservative organization that lobbies for the defense of Christians, said in an e-mail statement.
Meanwhile, Borden's attorney, Ronald J. Riccio, said he intends to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, pointing out that the recent ruling still leaves open for debate what coaches can and cannot do with their own students during prayer sessions.
"The ruling is clearly a reversal of the victory that we won below but the decision is so fragmented it really cries out for a U.S. Supreme Court review to settle the question once and for all," Riccio said, according to The Home News Tribune.