The Ethical Dilemma: My Son’s Coach is Organizing Team Prayers!

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Silent Prayer: My son plays baseball at our local community baseball league. His coach organizes a team prayer at the end of all games and practices. As an atheist, I am very uncomfortable with this. My son told me he does not like it but participates mainly due to the fear of rejection from his teammates. He asked me not to do anything about it. Any advice?

—Wanting To Protest

Dear Protest,

There are many cases in the news today about exactly this situation, in which a young team member, usually with the support of his family, challenges the practice of team prayer sessions. Just scroll through the news site of Freedom From Religion Foundation to see examples, including one where the coach was actually baptizing players on the football field. Calling out these practices often results in quite a ruckus in the community, with the complainants sometimes being shunned or receiving hate mail and death threats. But some of them also receive support, in the form of fan mail and even donations and scholarships (usually from outsiders).

Challenging the coach means picking a battle, and we all have to decide which battles we pick and which we let pass. Maybe your son’s team includes other kids who are suffering in silence, who would rally to his side and treat him as a hero. Or maybe he would find himself alone, and even those who secretly agree with him would make a show of opposing him. Whether or not to act has to be your son’s choice. Although it could be character-building to speak up for himself and non-believers everywhere—and some individuals thrive on standing up and standing out for a cause—it could cost him the enjoyment of his sport, his friends and his community, and it would bring attention to him and your family that he may not welcome (even if you might).

Let your son make his own decision, and support whatever he decides. He’ll only be on this team at most a few more years. Maybe the coach will leave and be replaced by one who doesn’t believe some god is playing favorites based on whether the kids pray rather than how well they play. In any case, your son will have many more opportunities in his life to take up causes, and even if he later regrets not taking up this one, that in itself would be a valuable lesson.