PORTALES, N.M. (KRQE) - A recent decision to ban coaches from leading their teams in prayer is stirring up controversy in one New Mexico town.
The ban isn't for coaches at public schools; it's for coaches of teams in city leagues.
With the start of football season, and what Portales' athletic director, Mike Doerr describes as a diverse population, he announced coaches in city sports leagues can no longer lead their teams in prayers.
"In order to respect the rights of all individuals, and to keep the separation between church and state, city officials and city leaders cannot be involved in leading prayer," explained Doerr.
His decision comes after he said he was approached by some parents who didn't want their children to feel left out or pressured if teams were praying.
"It's just something that had to be done," said Doerr. "Nobody's toes are intentionally being stepped on. I'm not trying to take anything away from anybody."
Doerr said he sought legal council and decided even volunteer coaches represent the city.
"You don't have principals or teachers leading their classrooms in prayer, and it's the same instance in this situation," said Doerr.
He also called the decision a proactive approach to avoid lawsuits. Since the word spread, Doerr said people from all backgrounds have come forward with opinions.
"The thought is that I've banned prayer, and actually I haven't," Doerr explained. "I have no stance on that. My opinion is that I can't have coaches leading prayer."
Those that still wish to pray at games, or observe a moment of silence, are allowed to do so, Doerr said.
Still, some parents are upset with the decision. Others said they'll just pray with their own children before games.
"Sometimes the majority of a particular view isn't excited about the fact that they have to yield to a minority view, but if we're respecting everyone's opinions or positions, then sometimes that's just what happens," said Chuck Abbot, city league coach and director of the city's recreation board.
Although Doerr said he's been getting mixed feedback from people with various religious backgrounds, he and other coaches agree, they hope the focus can remain on sports.
"That's the key, that's where I'd like the focus to stay, is on teaching kids how to play a sport, and letting him enjoy doing it," explained Abbott. "And as parents, to be able to go out and enjoy watching your children play."
There are about 3,000 kids and adults in city leagues in Portales, playing everything from football and soccer to volleyball and softball. Coaches that violate league policies are subject to disciplinary action or potentially getting booted from their teams.
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