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Some Parents Alarmed By Prayer And Religion At Queens Soccer Camp

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some parents said a no-cost soccer camp in Queens has a catch – lessons about God are slipped in as part of the program.

As CBS 2's Kathryn Brown reports, the summer soccer camp sponsored by the South Asian Community Center is usually packed with dozens of kids.

"Every Wednesday and Thursday, they get a crew of people that come from out of state, and then they get the people from this area that just get involved with the soccer," said parkgoer Albert Dispinseri.

Organizers said the goal of the camp was never to create controversy, but it has. Several church groups from around the country coach the kids at Rory Staunton Field in Jackson Heights, and they finish each day's lesson with a bit of religion.

"They asked them first -- would you mind if we say a prayer? Kids say no, and all they do is thank Jesus for their parents and, for their friends that they have, and all the good things they have in life, and that's it," said parkgoer Louise Ross.

But some parents said they were stunned to find out their kids were learning about God and Jesus while learning to kick and pass.

"Families have been up in arms about it, saying, 'Don't let your kids play with this group,'" said parkgoer Cari Sobolewski.

Rory Staunton Field is popular and diverse, so much so that officials there recently closed off the tennis courts so a large group could hold Ramadan prayers. Frequent parkgoers said religion and freedom of religion is generally embraced.

"At the end of the day, if they don't want their children participating, they just send a note saying at the end of the practice keep my child out of it -- very simple," said parkgoer Steven Arroyo.

South Asian Community Center director Larry Holcomb said the prayers are exactly that -- an invitation -- like many of the culturally diverse activities they sponsor.

"We never, ever tell anybody to pressure anybody, but we also, we never say, 'Don't ever mention that you're a Muslim or mention that you're a Christian because someone might be offended,'" Holcomb said. "We just don't do that."

Still, Holcomb said he is tweaking the rules to make sure activities with a religious connotation plainly state that in the future.

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