2008-04-17 / Front Page

E.B. schools wins appeal in Borden case

Editor's note: Ruling wa smade on deadline for this issue. For full coverage, see next week's edition of the Sentinel.

EAST BRUNSWICK - An appeals court ruled Tuesday in favor of the school district's policy that prohibits football coach Marcus Borden from participating in prayer with students.

The appeal came after a July 2006 ruling in U.S. District Court that said it is not an endorsement of religion for Borden to bow his head or take a knee while his players pray before games or at team meals. That court agreed with Borden that the school district had violated his First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free association and academic freedom in October 2005 when the district ordered him to cease the activities.

The Board of Education, however, argued that Bordens' actions ignore students' rights to be free fromreligious coercion. Represented byAmericansUnited for the Separation of Church and State, the board appealed the federal court ruling in the U.S. 3rd Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The appeals court upheld the school district's policy as constitutional Tuesday, and rejected Borden's claims that the policy had violated his rights, according to a press release from the Americans United group, a religious liberty watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C.

The three-judge panel noted that, because of Borden's 23-year history of organizing and leading prayers with players, his actions would be construed by a neutral observer as promoting religion. The appeals court indicated that the coach's acts are "an unconstitutional endorsement of religion."

"East Brunswick Public Schools is very pleased with today's unanimous ruling ... upholding as reasonable the district's policy against employees participating in prayer," Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro said in a statement Tuesday. "The district pursued this case to protect children who could not protest pressure to participate in religious activities at school events. Today's ruling

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