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Naperville District 203 reviewing prayer policy after Supreme Court decision about football coach

Naperville Unit District 203 officials are reviewing their policies after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of a football coach’s right to pray on the field.

The case involving a Washington state high school coach is reminiscent of a 2015 controversy involving Naperville Central High School’s football team. At that time, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained to District 203 after photographs appeared to show former head coach Mike Stine leading players, who were kneeling, and other coaches in a moment of prayer on the field.

Superintendent Dan Bridges barred Stine from continuing the practice.

“This message has been communicated to the athletic directors at (Naperville Central and Naperville North) to ensure that this expectation is shared with coaches of all sports at all levels.” Bridges said in a statement at the time.

The two situations differ in key ways. The Supreme Court case involved a coach praying on his own, while the Naperville Central issue involved coaches and players praying together.

Still, district officials plan on reviewing their policies. No timeline for the review has been provided.

“Naperville 203’s procedures regarding prayer at school have always been, and will continue to be, guided by the law,” Alex Mayster, the district’s executive director of communications, said earlier this week in the statement. “We will review this decision to determine how it might impact our practices, and to determine if any changes are necessary.”

Atheist writer and activist Hemant Mehta, a former Neuqua Valley High School teacher who in 2015 reported the Naperville Central pregame prayers to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said he sees no reason for a district review.

“I honestly don’t know what they’re reviewing because nothing’s really changed,” Mehta said. “In terms of what this thing allows, the Supreme Court’s decision still would not let the coach lead a prayer (or) be part of a team prayer.”

While Mehta understands the Supreme Court ruling as a matter of law, he questioned the motives of coaches and administrators who participate in or allow the type of public prayer demonstrated by the football coach in Washington.

“I think it’s just completely irresponsible to use your position that way, even if it’s legal in the books,” Mehta said. “Are you there to coach them in football and be a role model for those kids, or are you using your position to advance your personal religious beliefs?”

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