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In defense of school officials in the ‘football prayer’ controversy

Youth for Christ CEO Rick Fritzemeier, defending school administrators in football prayer controversy.
Youth for Christ CEO Rick Fritzemeier, defending school administrators in football prayer controversy. Modesto Bee

If you insist on pointing fingers, let’s at least point them in the right direction.

The latest drama of a high school football coach being asked to not lead his athletes in prayer is just another example of why this country is so far apart. No one listens to the other side. The so-called “facts” many times are far from factual.

We’re angry, so we’ve got to find someone to be angry at – even if they really don’t deserve it.

By no means have I agreed with every decision Modesto City Schools has made over the 29 years I’ve lived in this community. But as the executive director of Youth for Christ in Modesto and the Central Valley, I have strongly attempted to get to know the individuals in the administration of this district and the many others who impact the lives of students and families we hope to serve.

I know these things:

▪ The administrators love kids with a passion and want to do their part to prepare them to be successful in this world.

▪ They have an exceedingly difficult task, which is due to society’s ever-changing landscape – including leaving the administrators responsible for tasks and roles public education was never intended or designed to provide.

▪ They must honor the laws of the land – which doesn’t mean they like or don’t like specific laws – including being wise stewards of the district with regards to risk management and civil litigation.

The recent decision to ask a coach to stop leading his students in prayer is a shame! But it is a completely understandable and common-sense response to the laws of the land.

You don’t like it. I get that; I don’t either. But please don’t allow your frustration or irritation or anger to blind you as you seek to change this decision. Because it’s not the school district or our current superintendent who deserve your wrath. They are merely trying to use their knowledge and considerable expertise to stay true to their purpose in an extremely complex society.

Before you start throwing figurative stones, perhaps you need to try to understand the administrators and their role in society. Perhaps we need to do a much better job coming alongside them, rather than simply coming at them.

Our Christian community must come to understand where the battle really needs to be fought. I’m not suggesting we don’t stand up. But the minute you finish that sentence with “for our rights,” I believe we start to lose sight of how God calls us to action.

Where is that balance to be found?

Honestly, I’m not always sure. But I’m positive you can’t do it absent relationships.

As many of the teens in our program proclaim: Just saying!

Rick Fritzemeier is the executive director of Youth for Christ.

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