In the News

The First Amendment Protects Community Involvement of Pastors

July 26, 2018

By Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute Deputy General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs and Neal Mehrotra, First Liberty Legal Intern. Originally published in Townhall July 24, 2018.

“Did I break the law?” That was the heart-breaking first question Konnor McKay asked us after an out-of-state group of agitators sent a bullying letter to a school district—all because McKay had shared inspirational remarks with his former high school football team.

McKay grew up in Arkansas watching Waldron High School’s football team, and he aspired to play for the Bulldogs one day. He eventually achieved his dream and has since stayed local, becoming a pastor and an important member of the community.

So, it was fitting for his old coach to invite him to speak to his former team about the values of teamwork and leadership. As a Bulldog himself, he knew the challenges those high school football players at Waldron face.

Konnor spoke of leadership; and although he is a pastor, he made only one oblique reference to Scripture in his speech. When analogizing about the importance of teamwork, he quoted Proverbs: “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.”

Those eight words were enough for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) to decry a constitutional crisis. They sent a letter to the school district, complaining that the coach invited “an evangelist to preach to players” and demanding that the school district “ensure that its athletic programs will not be sued to promote religion.”

Does any reasonable person really think that it violates the First Amendment to use a passage from Scripture—one that makes no reference to God—to illustrate the importance of teamwork? Of course not. But if it were up to the FFRF, schools would no longer be able to select speakers based on their ties to a school or the virtues of their message; FFRF would insist upon a religious test that religious speakers could never pass.

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