This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
First Liberty Institute, coming off the successful Supreme Court representation of Coach Joseph Kennedy, who was wrongly fired by a Washington school district for his post-game prayers on school football fields, has issued a correction to a boast by the Freedom from Religion Foundation about its crackdown on prayers at the University of Colorado.
The Supreme Court recently decided that Kennedy’s rights were being violated by a school ban on his prayers.
Now a similar dispute has erupted in Colorado, where its high-profile football coach, former NFL star Deion Sanders, has made no secret of his religious faith.
That prompted the FFRF to complain to the school that any religious expression by Sanders was “unconstitutional.” The school said an official met with Sanders to “explain when and how coaches may engage in religious expression,” and the FFRF then “celebrated with a press release announcing it had ‘coached’ Coach Sangers on the Constitution.”
But both the “coaching” and the boasting were not just unneeded, but wrong, according to First Liberty’s letter to the school.
“Contrary to FFRF’s assertions about the Establishment Clause, public employees may engage in religious expression and exercise,” it told the school. “Additionally, courts regard college students, who are adults, to be less susceptible to religious coercion than primary and secondary school children.”
Its letter told CU, “Supreme Court precedent is clear that public school employees may engage in religious expression and exercise. First Amendment protections extend to both public employees and students, ‘neither of whom ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.””
The FFRF claimed Sanders was “imposing” his beliefs on students, but if that concept were the precedent, it actually would put the government in the position of being “hostile” to religion.
The state of Colorado previously was determined by the Supreme Court to have been “hostile” to Christianity in the case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver area, in which activists sued a baker for refusing to celebrate a same-sex “wedding.”
Further, the First Liberty letter warned, the expression of religious beliefs is not the same as “forced compliance.”
“Under Kennedy, private speech, like Coach Sanders’ prayers, does not present Establishment Clause concerns. Rather, censorship of such speech can quickly become a violation of the Free Exercise Clause,” First Liberty said.
It continued, “Ultimately, Coach Sanders’ brief prayer with CU football staff is private speech entitled to constitutional protection.
“We request that you permit Coach Sanders to exercise his fundamental rights and engage in private religious expression on CU”s campus,” the letter said.
It also requested from the school “all training materials from the CU Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (or any other relevant CU department) relevant to ‘the requirements of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Cause’ used to provide ‘guidance’ to Coach Sanders and other members of the CU Football staff.”
Also, “any public records or [materials] related to the ‘guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression.'”
The Institute warned, “The Free Exercise Clause does not permit [a public school] to confine religious speech to whispers or banish it to broom closets.”