The U.S. Military Academy is investigating whether a prayer led by a football team staff member after a game last weekend violated players’ religious freedom rights, the school said this week.
A video clip posted online briefly showed Army head football coach Jeff Monken telling a member of the coaching staff to lead the team in prayer after his players defeated Temple last Friday, according to an Army Times report.
West Point officials removed the video from the internet after the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation received “multiple complaints” and reached out to the academy’s superintendent, according to the report. An abbreviated version of the team’s locker room celebration was uploaded instead. It does not show a prayer.
Ninety people had registered complaints about the prayer with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the organization’s president told Army Times.
MRFF is “dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the organization says on its website.
“We want three things,” Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told The Huffington Post on Thursday afternoon. “An admission that there was a mistake, an apology, and assurances that this won’t happen again.”
MRFF received complaints from several current Army football players, he said, as well as from former cadets and the parents of current players. In an email to MRFF that Weinstein shared with HuffPost, one former cadet urged the academy’s superintendent “to do the right thing and follow the Constitution and bring this practice to an end.”
Weinstein, who said he has a close relationship with West Point, said that he had received assurances that Monken would apologize to the team this afternoon, and that the athletic department would look into procedures to prevent similar issues in the future.
“It’s all about time, place, and manner,” Weinstein said. “And in this case the time, place and manner were all wrong.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that school districts were barred by the Constitution from allowing students to lead prayers before football games at public high schools, but the issue has remained contentious in states and districts across the country.
Controversies over prayer at high school football games have erupted in states like Florida and Texas. In Washington, a high school football coach was placed on one-game leave after praying at a football game last year. Georgia lawmakers introduced legislation in January that would let students lead “voluntary, public prayers” before school sporting events.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation advocacy group, meanwhile, told Reuters last year that “a substantial number” of the more than 1,000 annual complaints it receives about religious issues in public schools “are related to prayer associated with sports and coach-led prayer.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation previously challenged the Air Force Academy over a similar issue, but the school found that its practices were appropriate under Air Force policies.
This story has been updated to include comment from Weintstein.