High school football and religion have long blended together in many communities, but coaches who lead their players in prayer cross the line between church and state. Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning has appropriately re-established that line, and House Speaker Will Weatherford has no business trying to move it. The U.S. Constitution and the courts are not on the lawmaker's side.
As Times staff writers Matt Baker and Jeffrey Solochek reported this week, some football coaches in Pasco and Hernando counties stretched the legal limits on school prayer, forcing superintendents to issue directives to stop the employee-led devotions. Weatherford responded to Browning by saying coaches should be allowed to lead their teams in prayer and believes that it is legal now. If it's not, the lawmaker said, he will try to change the law. That would be a wasted effort, and it would not hold up in court.
Weatherford complained a ban on prayer led by coaches violates their rights and is "un-American.'' He is off base on both counts, and he should be more concerned about the rights of all Floridians, the nation's embrace of diversity and respect for those with different views. That includes high school football players who do not share the religious beliefs of their coaches or the House speaker and who should not feel coerced to join in prayer.
Pasco school officials have made clear that any prayer must be led by students or be limited to moments of silence, and all Tampa Bay school districts have policies that properly ban the coach-led prayer that Weatherford wants to permit. It's the school district officials, not the House speaker, who have the greater respect for the U.S. Constitution and the courts — and a better understanding of the line between church and state.