I Was Pressured to Pray in the Locker Room

The Supreme Court recently decided on Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case which held that a public high school’s football coach had the right to coerce students to participate in public prayer sessions on the field following games. We have a story for you about what this decision will undoubtedly mean for students. We’ve been given permission to share it with you on the condition of the author’s anonymity due to their current occupation.

Pressured to Pray in the Locker Room

It’s time for a story I really didn’t want to tell. It’s the reason why, as a Jew, I can still recite the Lord’s Prayer by heart.

I was on my public high school’s swim team. Every competition would start with the entire team gathering together in the locker room for a pep talk and getting psyched up. It was just like you’d see in the movies. Part of that process? A recitation of the Lord’s Prayer led by the coach and captains.

No one ever said I had to participate, but nobody else sat it out. The school was mostly Christian, but even in my freshman year there were one or two other non-Christians on the team who were older than me. They just went along with it, so I did too…at least for a little while. What were we going to do? Remove ourselves from the group and stand in the corner? Walk out early? I was a good swimmer and had aspirations of making captain.

“Doing something would mean I wasn’t a team player, wouldn’t it?”

I remember that over time a group of us did start extricating ourselves. We’d stand in the corner while the captains (no longer being directed by the coach) led the prayers. We stopped the “tradition” altogether when I finally did become a co-captain of the team in my senior year. That change didn’t come easily. It wouldn’t have happened without my parents finding out what was taking place and letting me know that I didn’t have to just go with the flow.

I do firmly believe in peoples’ right to pray. But, I also lived through how that right can turn into coercion, particularly when you combine authority figures and athletic camaraderie with kids who want to fit in.

The fact that this story (and the words to the Lord’s Prayer) have stuck with me for two decades makes the news of this decision even harder for me. When I went through this, it was actually illegal and had been for ten years. That didn’t stop it from happening in the first place, but it did make it easier to stop it from continuing. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that what I went through should have been considered okay, and that I should have just been forced to deal with it.

“I worry about the harm this decision will bring and I am afraid for the other important legal precedents currently in the crosshairs.”