The U.S. Military Academy's football coach has come under fire for a video clip that showed him telling the team to pray after an upset victory over Temple last week.
West Point spokesman Francis J. DeMaro Jr. said Thursday that a third party alleged the prayer in the video — which was posted to social media — violated the First Amendment rights of some of the cadets, according to the Associated Press. The Christian prayer who reportedly mentioned Jesus was led by an assistant at the request of Coach Jeff Monken. A number of people have criticized the practice, saying it might violate the players' religious freedom, while also bringing religion into the public school.
"In this case, Coach Monken chose the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong manner,” Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told the AP. "He can’t tell anybody, put your hand on someone and let’s pray. You can’t do it, particularly when you’re the head coach [of a public school]."
A top general at West Point said the incident raises "valid concerns" about separation of church and state. "It creates an atmosphere where it is expected from everybody to say a prayer regardless of their faith or no faith," Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent at West Point, told the Washington Post. "It’s like me as the superintendent of the Corps of Cadets saying, ‘Let’s take a knee and say a prayer together.’ I don’t have the authority to do that. I cannot use my position of authority — my public position of authority — to direct my subordinates to do something that is inconsistent with their rights. So, that’s probably where we crossed the line."
The video racked up hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down and replaced with a new clip. Weinstein, of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the group was "inundated" with complaints, including dozens from West Point graduates and staff as well as six football players, according to the AP.
While the prayer controversy has remained, Army's football team was struck by tragedy this weekend. The academy announced Monday that team-member Brandon Jackson died in a single car crash Sunday night.