The football coaches at Westmoreland Middle School in Sumner County, Tenn., got into trouble for bowing their heads during a student-led prayer before a recent game.
According to local NBC affiliate WSMV, the unnamed coaches didn’t say anything aloud themselves, but bowed their heads respectfully in observance alongside the students.
Now the principal and the school district have officially ruled the coaches’ participation to be an uncomfortable endorsement of religion.
“We’ve been telling our principals to kind of be looking for those things, because that is kind of a shift in how things have been done,” district spokesman Jeremy Johnson told WSMV-TV News. “It can in no way appear like it’s endorsed by Sumner County Schools personnel.”
The district, it seems, is wary of legal problems after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the district for violating the separation of church and state, saying teachers led students in Bible studies, invited a pastor to come speak to students during lunch and at least one instructor displayed a 10-inch cross in their classroom.
When asked whether bowing one’s head was considered “endorsing,“ Johnson said it ”depends what it looks like. That‘s where you kind of get into the gray area that we’re having to deal with.”
Actually the coaches were not reprimanded. Instead, they were required to sign letters indicating they understood the school’s policy, which prohibits staff from appearing to participate in a student prayer in any way, even if it takes place after hours/
But longtime referee and local resident Tony Bentle says word of the incident “blew my mind.”
“We’re just respectful, God-fearing people up here,” he said. “Nobody in this town is offended if you pray. Nobody.”
Further violations of the policy could lead to disciplinary action for the coaches — as the school walks on eggshells to avoid further difficulties with the ACLU.
“That’s a violation of their rights. We should be able to bow our heads in reverence to God, wherever we are,” Bentle told the TV station. “It’s time we draw a line in the sand and say, you know, this is ridiculous.”