The U.S. Military Academy is launching an inquiry into a prayer led by coaches following Army’s opening-day victory over Temple last week.
Video of the post-game invocation was pulled offline on Monday after West Point officials received a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Mikey Weinstein, who heads the MRFF, said he received complaints from six members of the football team, two of whom he said identified as Christians, as well as dozens of Army graduates and staff who took exception to the religious expression.
He said the video showed head coach Jeff Monken directing an assistant coach to lead the team in a prayer, which reportedly concluded with the name of Jesus.
Although the video is no longer available online, a cached version of the post on the West Point Facebook page shows a thumbnail of football players kneeling with their heads down and arms outstretched on one another.
LTC Christopher Kasker, director of West Point public affairs, said the Army received “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,” Mr. Kasker said in a statement. “The video, which was posted on social media, was removed pending the inquiry.”
Mr. Weinstein said West Point coaches are state actors and therefore “cannot order subordinates to take a knee and pray.”
He said he was pleased with West Point’s decision to take down the video and won’t request a third-party inspector general’s investigation, as the MRFF has done in other cases.
But he is demanding a public apology from Mr. Monken.
“If you’re a state actor, particularly at a military academy like this, when you direct your charges underneath you to take a knee and then ask one of your assistants under your direction to give a prayer, you cannot do that,” he said.
The MRFF lodged a similar complaint with the U.S. Air Force Academy last year when several football players began praying on the field before games.
The academy eventually cleared those players of any wrongdoing, saying their actions were “consistent” with Air Force regulations on religious expression.
Although Mr. Weinstein said that case was wrongly decided, he drew a distinction between voluntary player prayer and an invocation led by coaches.
“That’s apples and oranges from what happened” here, he said.