In August, TheBlaze told you about the battle unfolding in LaFayette, Georgia, between a high school football coach and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist-activist non-profit. As we originally reported, the organization is taking the coach to task, claiming that he violated the First Amendment by allowing local churches to prepare meals for team members. Now -- the local community is coming to his defense, using prayer as a tool to defeat the group.
The FFRF claimed in an initial letter that was sent to the school that Ridgeland High School coach Mark Mariakis prayed with the football players, used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts and took part on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a faith-based organization.
The group also said that a minister typically delivers Christian-themed remarks to the players — another violation that has the activists fired up. The FFRF and its supporters want these practices to be ceased. But, believers and supporters of Mariakis aren't taking the group's demands lightly.
Hundreds of residents gathered in Walker County over the weekend to defend Mariakis, the football coach at Ridgeland High School who has become the focus of atheists' attacks. Rather than backing down to the group, these individuals are doubling down and supporting the embattled coach.
"I love God and I think it's very important in our life because it just makes you a better person in general," Ridgeland sophomore Ally Johnson said during the event.
Mariakis, too, is defending himself. While addressing the audience at the supportive prayer rally, he said, "We're not called to change the world but we're called to share the gospel and that that gospel will change lives."
WDEF-TV has more about this intriguing story:
The battle between atheists and the school district commenced in August, when an anonymous source allegedly complained to the FFRF over the meals that local churches provide the team. A legal representative for the group sent a letter to the district, demanding that the practice be halted.
“Taking public school football teams to church, even for a meal, is unconstitutional,” FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in the first letter that was sent to the district. “This program is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause and must cease immediately.”
It didn't take long for the FFRF to send a second letter just days later, also penned by Seidel. In it, he wrote, "It has come to our attention that Walker County Schools has received an outpouring of 'support,' including a number of Facebook pages that confirm some of our original allegations and point out additional constitutional violations."
The letter goes on to highlight some comments on the "Support Coach Mariakis" Facebook page that seem to indicate that the coach did, indeed, speak about God frequently.
"Public high school teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain because public schools may not advance or promote religion," Seidel added in the latest letter, dated August 27th.
The conservative Liberty Council has offered to help the district, should a legal battle unfold. There's no telling where the case will go next, but, at the moment, it seems the community is prepared to fight against atheists' demands.