Tom is the head football coach at Central High School, the single high school in a bedroom community in a growing metropolitan area. Tom came to Central after serving in the Navy (achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer) and then earning his college degree and his teaching credential. While in school, Tom served as a volunteer assistant football coach at another high school. When Central began searching for a head football coach, Tom came highly recommended. It was a no-brainer, as far as hiring a coach was concerned.
Tom had come to faith in Jesus Christ while in the Navy. He and his wife Donna actively served in a local church while Tom was in school—Tom as a Bible Study leader for college students, Donna working as a helper with preschoolers in Sunday School. It was clear that the Lord was in the center of their marriage; their family lived in served in humility, not seeking any limelight or any outward recognition.
It would be a simple, yet a visual, display of Tom giving God the glory for his life.
Not long after coming to Central, the church where Tom and Donna attended had a showing of the movie Facing the Giants. Being a football coach, Tom was particularly taken by the movie. He became determined to bring God glory in all of his life—including his career as a football coach.
Tom decided one way he could do that was to pray and publicly thank God for his players—for their safety, for their accomplishments, and for the chance to invest into their lives. He decided that he would simply walk over to the 50-yard line, take a knee, and pray; for no more than 30 seconds. It would be a simple, yet a visual, display of Tom giving God the glory for his life.
After the next game, Tom casually walked over to the 50-yard line, got on one knee, and prayed. He did the same after the next game, and the game after that.
After the fourth game, a couple of his players walked behind Tom when he went away to pray. “Hey Coach,” they asked, “Can we join you?”
“It’s a free country. It’s up to you.”
The players joined Tom in taking a knee and praying—silently—for about 30 seconds.
The next game, more of Tom’s players joined in the prayer circle. Soon, players on the opposing team were joining in the prayer circle.
The prayer circle was becoming a tradition.
It was not even limited to Christians. One of Tom’s coaches was Buddhist; he would go off to the side of the prayer circle and do a chant.
It wasn’t long before Tom was asked to say a few words of encouragement and inspiration after the game to the players who wanted to stick around and listen. The remarks were brief, they were encouraging, and they reflected Tom’s deep conviction to bring glory to God.
Over the next seven years, it became virtually common knowledge that a football game with Central High School would have a prayer circle on the 50-yard line at the end of the game. Tom never required or pressured his players to participate; while some did, many did not.
One Monday after a game, Tom was called into the principal’s office. The principal handed Tom an envelope; in it was a letter from the School Board.
The letter informed Tom that his post-game prayer on the 50-yard line was “overtly religious,” and was “interfering with his supervisory responsibilities as an employee of the school district.” The letter stated that Tom was free to go and pray in a private area, but that the prayers on the 50-yard line would have to “cease and desist.” Failure to comply would result in: a) his suspension as an employee; or b) his termination as an employee.
What is Tom’s best option, and why?