North Carolina school officials have ordered a high school football coach to stop leading his team in prayer after atheist activists accused him of violating the U.S. Constitution.
It started when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a church-state separatist group, contacted the Mooresville Graded School District last fall to complain about Mooresville High School coach Hal Capps’ purported religious activities, The Charlotte Observer reported.
The atheist group stated in a letter that the coach “frequently prays with football players at team events and encourages them to go to church and to become baptized,” according to WSOC-TV.
The group called the activities both unacceptable and illegal.
“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” Patrick Elliott, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote in a letter of complaint to the district.
Despite negative reaction from atheist activists, students and residents have taken to Twitter with a #ISupportCapps hashtag, offering up praise and defense of their coach:
Despite the outpouring of support, the coach vowed to stop invoking God’s name so openly with members of the football team. In a letter to families after speaking with district superintendent Mark Edwards, Capps pledged not to lead anymore team prayers.
He was not disciplined for his actions.
Capps was also accused of participating in student baptisms, though the school system has denied this allegation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said a photo on the team’s Twitter account seemingly showed a team baptism that Capps attended.
But Edwards, who reportedly told Capps to cease team prayer after the last football season ended, said that the picture did not actually show a team baptism as some had charged.
Some of the football players reportedly belong to a church and it was that house of worship that hosted the baptism.
Capps was purportedly invited to join a player in celebrating the event, with Edwards telling The Charlotte Observer that the coach is “a very proud Christian.”
Now that the coach has been ordered to no longer continue invocations, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said that the issue is, at least for the time being, likely resolved.