Army celebrates their win after defeating Temple 28-13 to open their 2016 season.
Officials with the U.S. Military Academy pulled a video clip of the football team’s postgame locker-room celebration offline Monday and have launched an inquiry into whether a team prayer violated players’ rights to religious freedom.
After Army West Point’s 28-13 upset win over Temple on Friday in Philadelphia, athletics department staff posted a clip that, according to multiple people who saw the video, showed head coach Jeff Monken asking a staff member to lead the team in prayer. The video went up Saturday evening on the school’s official athletics Facebook page and had about 180 comments and 1,600 shares by Sunday morning, according to an archived version of the post that does not include the video.
After receiving multiple complaints regarding the video, Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Mikey Weinstein said he reached out to academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen on Monday to discuss the post. It was taken down shortly thereafter and replaced on some platforms by a shorter, edited video of the celebration:
In a Tuesday statement, West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker did not name the MRFF, but said a "third party advocacy group" made the school aware of the video and "made allegations that this act violated first amendment rights of some of the cadets."
"As a result of this allegation, West Point officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter," Kasker said. "The video, which was posted on social media, was removed pending the inquiry."
Ninety individuals had registered complaints with the MRFF as of Wednesday morning, Weinstein said – 44 graduates, 40 members of the West Point staff, and six football players. Unlike many other religious-freedom cases pursued by the group, Weinstein said he does not plan to file a third-party inspector general's complaint on the issue.
"We’re satisfied that this will be taken care of," Weinstein said, adding that his foundation seeks an admission of wrongdoing and an apology from Monken, as well as assurances that the coach will adjust his postgame ritual.
"There are plenty of Supreme Court decisions that say he can’t do that," Weinstein said of the prayer. "High school coaches can’t do that, elementary school coaches can’t do that … not if it’s a public school."
Weinstein provided some of the emails he received on the matter.
"Coach Monken had no business telling my son and his Army teammates to get on their knees and pray a prayer to Jesus!" wrote one concerned parent. "My son was very upset about this. ... This violates the Constitution and to think it happened at West Point?"
Weinstein’s MRFF, which claims 47,300 clients and targets proselytizing in the military, took to the gridiron late last year when members of the Air Force Academy’s team began kneeling in prayer on the field prior to kickoff. The academy investigated the practice and found it was within regulations; Weinstein called the review a "pathetic sham."
Army West Point hosts Rice on Saturday in the Black Knights' home opener.
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