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City Orders Prayer-Ban Compliance : District Tells Coaches to Halt Team Worship

October 28, 1987|STEVE ELLING | Times Staff Writer

Administrators and coaches at City Section high schools were ordered Monday to comply with a Supreme Court decision reaffirming a ban on prayer in public schools.

Dan Isaacs, an assistant superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said memoranda were mailed to administrative personnel at all 49 City high schools after officials learned that some Valley-area coaches reportedly were involved in prayer on the sidelines before games.

"The memo is basically a reminder to administrators and coaches that there is a mandatory separation of church and state, that prayer is a personal and private thing and that district personnel may not be involved in anything that's perceived to be organized religion," Isaacs said.

Administrators were asked to discuss the matter with coaches and monitor them for compliance. Coaches who previously had allowed prayer said the notice clarified what is acceptable to the district.

"The truth is, I wasn't sure what the policy was," said Cleveland High Coach Steve Landress, who met with school administrators Tuesday. "It helps serve as a reminder, because there are plenty of coaches out there who aren't sure what applies. It's something I'd allowed since I first started coaching in 1977, but not any more."

Cleveland assistant Frank Jamerson had been leading team prayers for the past two seasons but will adhere to the directive, Landress said.

"What it boils down to is that we'll no longer set aside time for the team to get together before a game," Landress said.

The Supreme Court ruled June 4, 1985, that silent "meditation or voluntary prayer" violates the First Amendment, which guarantees a separation of church and state. Private schools are not affected by the ruling.

Bart Kricorian, principal at San Fernando, said he doesn't anticipate problems with monitoring sideline activity. "I think it's something that's enforceable," he said. "I don't feel like a policeman. We know it's illegal, and I'll talk to our coaches to make sure they know what the guidelines are."

Granada Hills Principal Anne Falotico said the school will obey the law, but that enforcement will be largely left to the coaches. "I don't know that a smoking ban is enforceable, either," she said. "We'll do what we can do as administrators to keep it in check."

Kennedy Coach Bob Francola was told by administrators last Thursday to omit religious references from his pregame speech. Francola said he will continue to have a moment for players to gather their thoughts, however.

"We've always had a moment of silence for players to reflect, or . . . ask to play to the best of our ability and avoid injury," he said. "Friday I just told everybody to find somebody to make contact with."

Francola said several parents and Kennedy graduates phoned him this week to voice their support.

"It's funny. I haven't been inside a church in 20 years and I'm caught up in all this," he said. "Two radio stations called today to ask about the religious ceremony on our sideline before a game. Hey, I'm hardly a candidate to take Jim Bakker's place, and I don't want to be. All we have is a 'one-for-all-and-all-for-one' moment to ourselves."

Isaacs said individuals can pray as long as district personnel are not involved.

"That's a student's personal right," he said. "We won't encourage or discourage spontaneous action by a player. As long as a coach is not involved, a kid has every right to his beliefs. It just can't be organized."

Landress said his staff will leave any prayer to the individual.

"If a young man wants to take a moment of time by himself, I can handle that," he said. "I'd be the first guy to scream if I thought somebody's rights were being violated.

"But we have Orientals, Hispanics, Muslims and Jewish kids on the team. Heck, we probably have an agnostic on the team, too, so this is probably the best way to handle it. They're on their own, as of now."

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