Football Team at Mich. School Ends Post-Game Prayer Tradition After Complaint

A public high school located outside of Detroit, Mich., has ended its 11-year tradition of holding a student-led team prayer after each football game following a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year.

According to Dan Loria, head football coach at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, players from his team and the opposing team gathered in the middle of their school's field after every game for the past 11 years to give thanks to God for another game completed safely.

Media outlets covering the story nicknamed the postgame prayer as "Tebowing" after the NFL's New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow, as it represents his classic stance of taking one knee and bowing one's head in prayer.

The prayer, according to Loria, began when a player asked his fellow teammates to join him in prayer because his brother was ill, and became a tradition from there.

"It kind of just carried on," Loria told The Oakland Press of the prayer tradition.

 "It was something that somebody wanted to do every year. I got caught up because of how it originated and I lost sight of it," Loria added.

The family of one student, however, was displeased with the prayer, and contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in February after witnessing one of these post-game traditions.

The ACLU, a legal nonprofit group which seeks to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties" of Americans, then issued a letter to the school asking it to discontinue the prayers, arguing that the school, as a public institution, was violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and Religious Freedom clause.

The ACLU said students who do not belong to the Christian religion may feel left out of the post-game prayer.

"The First Amendment protects religious liberty for all citizens in the United States, including people who aren't apart of the majority religion," Dan Korobkin of the ACLU told WDIV-TV.

The main issue with the complaint was that Coach Loria was allegedly leading the students in their post-game prayer, although the Bloomfield School District's superintendent later sought to clarify this was not the case.

"We interviewed the coach after receiving the complaint and investigated the matter," Bloomfield Schools Superintendent Robert Glass told The Oakland Press. "The coach did not lead prayer as alleged, but was present when students led prayer at the game."

The school district ultimately adhered to the ACLU's request without incident, banning the traditional post-game prayer from football games and releasing a statement which said despite the coach not leading the prayer, student-led prayers would still not be permitted.

"Student-led prayer is not to be part of post-game proceedings," Glass told The Oakland Press.

Bloomfield Hills Schools Director of Communications and Public Relations Shira Good sought to clarify in a separate article with The Oakland Press that the school has not banned "Tebowing" or other signs of personal prayer after a player scores a touchdown or other on-field accomplishments.

The school's decision to ban the post-game prayer has been criticized by some who argue that because a member of the faculty was not leading the prayer, the tradition should be allowed to continue as a voluntary, student-led option.

"The school should not establish that after the game now is the time for everyone to pray," Father Jonathan Morris told "Fox & Friends" on Sunday.

"But should football coaches or students be allowed to pray after a high school football game? Of course … Just nobody is supposed to be leading or forcing you to do that," Morris, who serves the archdiocese of New York, continued.

Morris went on to encourage students of Lahser High School to take the initiative if they wish to continue prayer at their football games.

"If you want to pray after games, if you think that's good for yourself, good for you school, good for your country, to have that public expression of faith, you take the initiative and do it yourself, nobody can stop you," Morris advised on Sunday while on "Fox & Friends."

Americans, he stressed, should remember that "no matter what situation I'm in, I have not only a right to pray publicly, but that is something that the United States of America in our Constitution has supported."

"There should be no establishment of religion. Why? So that there can be a free exercise of religion," Morris emphasized.

Although the local high school's football season is over for now, players will return to the field in the fall sans their 11-year post-game prayer tradition.