High school football coach vows to keep prayer off school grounds

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

An Ohio public school district and a state civil rights group have settled a federal lawsuit that accused a high school football coach of proselytizing.

The settlement came yesterday only hours before a federal judge was to hear oral arguments in the case.

In June the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued the London City School District and a London High School football coach, claiming that the coach unconstitutionally discussed his religious beliefs with his students and athletes.

According to the ACLU, which represented London students and parents, David Daubenmire had led his football team in the Lord's Prayer after football games, invited students to his church, passed out Scripture and conducted Bible-reading sessions in his global studies class.

The London School Board unanimously accepted the settlement, which contains assurances that the school-sponsored religious activities would cease and that any violations would be reported to the district superintendent and the ACLU. Daubenmire had acknowledged in court depositions that he had led or allowed ministers to lead his students in prayer.

Late last year parents and some students began to complain to school officials that Daubenmire was improperly pushing his religious beliefs on students during school hours. The ACLU then got involved and asked for a federal court injunction against a “history of religious indoctrination directed at student athletes.”

Daubenmire had said that the complaints were politically motivated. After the school board voted to accept the settlement, Daubenmire told The Columbus Dispatch that he thought the controversy arose because parents were unhappy with his coaching decisions.

Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the Ohio ACLU, described the settlement as a victory for London residents and the First Amendment.

“We filed suit for one reason only, to put a stop to a long history of First Amendment violations at London High School,” Vasvari said in a prepared statement. “For the first time in eight years, parents can send their kids to London High School secure in the knowledge that the school district and its employees are taking the rule of law seriously.”