MONTOURSVILLE, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A Lycoming County baseball team is getting some unexpected attention. It’s not about how they played. Instead, it’s a pre-game act that is causing some controversy.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation accused the Montoursville Area School District of violating the Constitution of the United States. This comes after the high school baseball team said a prayer before a game.
What started out as a normal game day for the Montoursville High School baseball team ended in controversy.
A letter was sent to the school district by the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding unconstitutional coach participation in prayer.
Part of the letter reads: “The coaches, including Mr. Jeremy Eck and Mr. Mike Mussina reportedly kneeled, removed their hats, bowed and prayed in a circle on the field.”
“A public school cannot endorse religion and that is what these coaches are doing when they participate in religious rights with their students,” Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Madeline Ziegler said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide non-profit organization that promotes the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state as well as educates the public on non-believers.
The organization says it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to engage in this activity and noted the Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.
“I agree with separating church and state. I don’t think it should be something that’s mandatory, however I do feel that everybody there is in agreement that it’s something positive,” Brandon Avalos of Loyalsock said.
Montoursville Area High School principal Dan Taormia issued a statement to Eyewitness News which reads in part: “The district will provide guidance to our coaches on this matter. Under no circumstances will any of the district’s decisions infringe on the rights of our student-athletes to pray at athletic contests.”
“When a coach participates in a religious activity with their students, that sends a message to non-religious students that they are outsiders,” Ziegler said.
“If a player doesn’t feel comfortable doing it. I’ve never been approached by a player saying he wasn’t, but if he or his family did, they simply could remain quiet or they could pray to whomever they wish at the same time,” coach Paul Roman said.
Roman has coached baseball in Lycoming County for more than 30 years. He says as long as it’s not mandatory, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“The kids aren’t made to feel excluded or anything like that. They can still put their hands in if they want or if they feel more comfortable stepping back, that’s completely fine,” Roman said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said they’re not looking for any type of penalty regarding this. They just want the practice to stop.
We mentioned Coach Mussina in the story. This of course, is Mike Mussina, who had a great career as a pitcher with the Yankees and Orioles and will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 21.