Michigan football team not allowed on-field prayer for coach's sick daughter

A Michigan high school football team has been barred from undertaking any prayer-based activities at the school, after a Michigan civil rights group discovered that they had been promoting prayer circles in support of their coach’s ailing daughter.

The Lake City High School football team had been holding prayer circles, called “family circles,” both pre-scrimmage and at other times.

9&10 News reported that both students and parents attended, and one was held at midnight at the football field. These students and parents are showing their support for Harper Smith, the four-year-old daughter of coach Kyle Smith. Harper has been hospitalized for several months while fighting an intestinal illness.

The school posted videos of the prayer circle on their Facebook page, and that’s when the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists got involved. MACRA sent an informal cease-and-desist letter to the school, explaining that they were promoting a prayer service at a public school, and asking that they take the videos down. Since Lake City High School is a public school and the prayer circle was held on school grounds, that violates the first amendment, which guarantees that the government (which includes the public school system) can’t endorse any religion or impose religious beliefs on its citizens.

Community member Lacie Henjal told 9&10 News that she supported the team’s decision to hold a prayer circle, and the school’s decision to publicize it on their website.

“Yes a pastor offered prayer, but it was never advertised as a prayer event it was a family circle coming to support Kyle, Harper, Linda and Hudson. It bothers me that someone that’s not from our community is trying to silence us.”

Henjal emphasized that no one was forced to participate. But the group’s co-founder, Mitch Kahle, said that it’s not about anyone being forced or not forced to participate. 

“The bottom line is it’s the property of the school and the school has a responsibility to treat it just like any other school property, and that means it has to remain free of religion.”

The school initially refused to remove the videos, but finally took them down on Thursday. Leaving them up could have resulted in lawsuit from MACRA, or the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has sent several letters to the school. Representatives from both MACRA and the Freedom From Religion Foundation applauded the school’s efforts to help Harper — as long as religion isn’t involved.

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Images of people in moments of prayer
FCA prays for our school this morning on National Day of Prayer #thankyou http://t.co/bWrSPoy9pC
Ministering at National Day of Prayer Breakfast. #MtGileadFGIM hosted the event. God has given us authority in #RVA! http://t.co/VGUjT6M5xb
Join us as we observe National Day of Prayer at the Robert F. Thomas Chapel, services at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. http://t.co/CsA2HZDAi6
Great hanging out with these guys at the National Day of Prayer event in DC today! @ronniefloyd @jackngraham #NDOP http://t.co/0CY7TszTcn
A family that prays together, stays together! Mark your calendars National Day of Prayer is this Thursday! #Savelle http://t.co/lugHmwFWWq
Honored to be with our military during today's National Day of Prayer Celebration in Texas. #vets #txlege http://t.co/cOPZHeJOv7
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: Attendees pray during the opening session of the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 26, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Strong safety Brandian Ross #29 of the Oakland Raiders looks up after saying a prayer in the end zone before a game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 28, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
FONTANA, CA - MARCH 21: The pit crew of Brendan Gaughan (not pictured), driver of the #62 South Point Chevrolet, prays before the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
People pray over a makeshift cross during a rally in front of City Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 3, 2015 calling for peace following widespread riots. The riots stemmed from protests over the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who suffered a serious spinal injury while in the back of a police van on April 12. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 03: A man prays during a song at Kingdom Fellowship Cathedral two days after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 3, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Maryland Gov., Larry Hogan called for a statewide ÒDay of Prayer and PeaceÓ on Sunday. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Protesters pray outside the Baltimore Police Central Booking and Intake Center for prisoners in Baltimore, Maryland on May 1, 2015. Six Baltimore police officers were charged Friday over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American whose spine was snapped in custody, in a surprise announcement after days of riots and protests in the US city. The charges -- ranging from second-degree murder and manslaughter to misconduct -- were set out by Maryland state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, with all six officers taken into custody during the day. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J.RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07: Christian ministers, clergy and lay leaders pray during an Easter Prayer Breakfast in the East Room of the White House April 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, President Barack Obama hosted the event to bring Christian religious leaders together at the White House to 'pray and reflect on Holy Week and Easter.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 31: U.S. Army generals bow their heads in prayer during the commencement ceremony for the Army's annual observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the Pentagon Center Courtyard March 31, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. In conjunction with the national campaign against sexual assault, The Army announced this year's theme, 'Not in My Squad. Not in Our Army. We are Trusted Professionals,' during the ceremony.Ê According to the Pentagon, the initative 'is a grassroots approach meant to reinforce a climate of dignity and respect founded on good order and discipline.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
People pray during a service in a soccer field near the Islamic Association of Raleigh February 12, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Community members and loved ones gathered to mourn the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were shot Tuesday afternoon. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Thinking of everyone in Paris.

While there haven’t been any other prayer circles, community member Jennifer Smith told 9&10 News that the attention from MACRA’s cease-and-desist has helped the fundraising effort tremendously.

“All they’ve really done for us is increase the funding, the fundraising, and there are schools down in Jennison that are now wearing #harperstrong on their football helmets.”

The school has continued to fundraise for little Harper, and held a spaghetti dinner recently to raise more money for her care and for the family.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter at @lizroscher.

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