Third Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Religious Freedom in Borden Case

Washington, DC – Today, The Interfaith Alliance applauded the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s decision to declare a public school teacher leading students in prayer as unconstitutional. In Borden v. East Brunswick School District (NJ), a panel of three Third Circuit judges unanimously affirmed the position advocated in an amicus brief filed by the Interfaith Alliance.

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance said, “I applaud the Third Circuit Court of Appeals for affirming our view that Mr. Borden’s actions violated students’ religious freedom when he led them in prayer. It is not the role of public schools to indoctrinate our children with one faith’s religious values.”

In the case in question, Marcus Borden, a public high school coach and teacher in New Jersey was accused of crossing the line by participating, in his official capacity, in prayer sessions with his players. Borden argued that bowing his head and kneeling during these sessions were “purely secular symbolic acts,” a position rejected by the Third Circuit. In today’s opinion, the court stated, “…Borden was endorsing religion when he engaged in these acts.”

In an amicus brief filed with the Third Circuit, The Interfaith Alliance and the seven other groups that signed it concluded that:

By bowing his head and kneeling in a prayer circle with students as they pray, Coach Borden unconstitutionally crosses the line from government neutrality to government participation in and endorsement of religious exercise. Coach Borden’s claim that his actions lack religious content is both disingenuous and insulting to sincere religious adherents.

The other organizations signing the amicus brief were The Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, Jewish Women International, Muslim Advocates, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Sikh Council on Religion and Education, and The Union for Reform Judaism.

The brief was prepared by Pamela Harris and Pammela Quinn of O’Melveny & Myers and the case was argued by Richard Katskee of Americans United for Separation of Church & State.


Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.