Naperville football players: 'Watch us pray and play'
Some Naperville Central High School football players say they want to continue saying a prayer before games next season, even if a district directive prohibits head coach Mike Stine or any of his staff from leading the team in such activities.
Senior Daniel Bumpus released a statement Friday on behalf of the team saying players want to keep their prayerful tradition.
"We are proud that he (Stine) is willing to stand up for his faith and for the example he sets for us. He is a role model for every one of us in a world where true male role models are becoming few and far between," Bumpus wrote. "The players will continue this tradition of praying before our games and would like to extend an invitation to all members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to come out next fall and watch us pray and play the game we love. Go Redhawks."
Naperville Unit District 203 spokeswoman Michelle Fregoso said the district "will not restrict their freedom of expression" as long as players respect its policies and coaches do not participate.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the district Tuesday after some Central players and coaches were seen praying before their Nov. 14 playoff loss to Waubonsie Valley in Aurora. The foundation represents secular people and seeks to defend the separation of church and state.
Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor released a statement Friday saying the Naperville students are "coming to the defense of inappropriate religious conduct by a school authority figure."
Bumpus said in a telephone interview Friday that the team said the Lord's Prayer before each game this season and most members want to continue praying next year. He said he thinks the act is constitutionally protected.
"Personally, I view the constitution as giving me the freedom to practice my religion individually and collectively," he said.
Gaylor, meanwhile, called on Naperville Central and the district to provide more education about separation of church and state and the reasons no student-athlete should be pressured to pray.
"The student statement demonstrates an atmosphere in which students are subject to expectations of religious conformity and orthodoxy at Naperville Central," Gaylor said in a written statement. "It's incumbent on Naperville Community Unit School District 203 to step in and educate not only staff but students on the importance of keeping religion out of our public schools."
Fregoso said the district already reviewed and addressed the foundation's complaint when it told coaches not to lead prayers.
"We are aware that a coach-led prayer is not appropriate," the district said in a statement released Thursday. "The head football coach has been instructed that neither he nor his staff may lead his players in prayer. This message has been communicated to the athletic directors at both high schools to ensure that this expectation is shared with coaches of all sports at all levels."
Stine, who has coached the Redhawks football team for 10 years, declined to comment Friday.
The players' statement said they support their coach.
"He is the best coach in the state and cares about each and every one of us more than any other coach cares about his players," it said.
• Daily Herald staff writers Katlyn Smith and Kevin Schmit contributed to this report.