By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Casper football coach who is also a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives on Wednesday praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that allows coaches to pray on the football field.
Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the Supreme Court made a good decision and that he felt it reaffirmed the justice system.
“Our system isn’t perfect because it’s man-made, but we did form a more perfect union,” Harshman said. “I think these discussions should keep going. I welcome that. We all have freedom of religion.”
In a ruling written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court found that a Washington state school district improperly fired a coach for kneeling at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks.
The school district argued his behavior could lead to complaints about the district failing to maintain the separation of church and state.
Harshman said he understood the school district officials’ point of view, because teachers and coaches are not trying to indoctrinate students, no matter their faith or lack thereof.
Supreme Court justices found that by trying to “punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance,” the district acted in violation of the coach’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom to exercise religion and freedom of speech.
Harshman said he believes many football coaches across the country do the same thing with their teams, whether on the field or in the locker room.
As a coach, he holds a moment of silence for his team, allowing them to give thanks or reflect, but he does not ask or require them to pray.
“Some of the guys are praying, there’s no doubt,” he said. “We form this bond and brotherhood, so before and after every game, we just take a moment to give thanks, each in our own way, because we’ve got so much to be thankful for.”
Harshman said he and his team put a hand on each other’s shoulder and bask in the moment of silence right before the chaos of the football game begins.
No matter their background, they are a team both on and off the field while under Harshman’s direction, and that is what matters the most, he said.
According to news outlet The Hill, the Washington football coach began kneeling and praying on the football field after school games in 2008, over time being joined by more and more students. The school district eventually told him to stop.
When the coach defied their orders, officials placed him on administrative leave.
He filed a lawsuit, arguing his rights to free speech and religion were violated by the policy. The school district said the coach led a public demonstration of government-endorsed religion and that students were pressured to pray with the coach because they might risk losing playing time.