The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) has become more visible in Sioux Falls this week by sponsoring and organizing a high school sporting extravaganza at the USF Sanford Complex on Friday.
The FCA SoDak Bowl (formerly known as the Irish Bowl and the SoDak Prairie Bowl) will be held at a privately owned facility that is also the football home of Sioux Falls Christian High School.
But the other five schools involved are public schools, including Hanson,
Avon, Bridgewater/Emery-Ethan, Elk Point-Jefferson and Canistota.
Amid all the athletic competition, which includes three football games and a cross country meet, there will be Christian prayer and teachings – which is where the inclusion of public schools becomes a problem.
I wrote a column not long about the FCA Honor Luncheon in Sioux Falls, in
which public school students (in addition to private) are invited to an
event to receive awards but are also presented with a message about how Christ should be a part of their lives.
I told of the time that former University of Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown informed about 400 high school students at the FCA luncheon that homosexuality is a sin.
Brown went on to tell his young listeners that more than 43 million babies have been “executed” since abortion was made legal in America.
Such views might be expected (and protected by the First Amendment) at a political or religious rally, but the majority of students attending were from the Sioux Falls School District, and they had been excused from class to attend a sports-based awards luncheon.
At that point, separation of church and state becomes an issue, as does the false presumption that Christianity or any other belief can be treated as the “established religion” by any state or government entity.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Nebraska sent a letter to every public school superintendent in the state, singling out Brown for touting his religious beliefs in school presentations.
The Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce has since distanced itself from the FCA luncheon in Sioux Falls, which now includes faith-based elements in its criteria for handing out the awards.
“That (faith) element has weighed more heavily ever since we’ve become just an FCA event,” state FCA director Brian Hansen told me a few years ago.
“The Chamber of Commerce chose not to be involved, and we feel there’s a responsibility that the person measure up to FCA beliefs or standards.”
The Sioux Falls School District, mindful of lawsuits that have popped up elsewhere, is careful to treat the FCA (or any religious organization) as a voluntary activity for students rather than part of the fabric of the schools.
Concerning this week’s FCA SoDak Bowl, however, student-athletes really have no choice in what games they play in or who runs those events. It’s the job of administrators to make those decisions.
Indeed, the players have every reason to be excited about playing in a bowl-type atmosphere on a college field against quality opponents.
But the exposure of young people to religious beliefs or doctrine is a personal choice to be made by parents, not school administrators or FCA officials.
So when the FCA announces that players and coaches are invited to a postgame program to hear a “message” from former NFL player David Rocker, it makes sense to take notice.
Upon closer inspection, you learn that Rocker is a pastor and church founder who decided during his NFL career to “inspire coaches, teammates, and friends to have a personal relationship with the Lord,” according to his website.
Mixing an agenda such as that with public school kids is risky business these days, as numerous ACLU lawsuits throughout the nation suggest.
On a local basis, I have heard parents complain about the FCA flag football league, which includes organized prayer and Bible verses for players to learn and recite for each game.
At least those families have made a choice by signing their kids up for that league. Most of the student-athletes who take the field at Friday’s FCA SoDak Bowl are just going where they’re told by public school administrators, who may need to rethink their strategy.