Army pulls postgame football video after prayer complaints

Posted at 2:51 PM, Sep 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-08 17:51:41-04

The U.S. Military Academy removed a video clip of the football team's postgame locker-room celebration after its upset win over Temple and is investigating whether a team prayer violated the religious freedom of the players.

West Point spokesman Francis J. DeMaro Jr. said Thursday that a third party made allegations the video violated the First Amendment rights of some of the cadets. DeMaro said the video, which was posted on social media, was removed pending the inquiry, which was first reported by Army Times.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said head coach Jeff Monken crossed the line after the game last Friday night in Philadelphia when he asked a staff assistant to conduct a prayer that ended with Jesus.

"In this case, Coach Monken chose the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong manner," Weinstein said Thursday. "He can't tell anybody, put your hand on someone and let's pray. You can't do it, particularly when you're the head coach (of a public school)."

Weinstein said the video received 232,000 views and 2,000 Facebook shares. He said he started getting "inundated" with phone calls, texts and emails, including 44 from West Point graduates, 40 members of the academy faculty and staff, and six football players, prompting a call to West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.

Weinstein, who said the video was replaced by an edited version, said he was expecting Monken to offer an apology later Thursday.

"We assume that there's going to be an apology from the coach to the team," Weinstein said. "We are assuming there's an admission there was a misstep."

Weinstein said Army athletic director Boo Corrigan was putting procedures in place with all coaches at the academy that will prevent a similar situation from happening. Because of his relationship with Caslen, Weinstein said he does not plan to file a third-party inspector general's complaint on the issue.

The MRFF, which claims 47,300 clients, questioned a practice by the Air Force Academy football team late last year after players began kneeling in prayer prior to games. The academy found it was within regulations.