A Georgia school district that made headlines after a viral video showed more than a dozen football players being baptized on public school property has said that the event — which unfolded after school hours — violated official policy.
Pastor Kevin Williams (First Baptist Villa Rica)
Carroll County School District superintendent Terry Jones said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that the baptism, which featured the involvement of Pastor Kevin Williams of First Baptist Villa Rica in Villa Rica, Georgia, did not follow district protocol.
"The principal’s understanding was that the event was a church sponsored activity that was to be conducted after school and he was not aware of student involvement," Jones said. "From the investigation the school district has concluded that [Villa Rica High School] failed to follow district facility usages procedures for outside groups using school facilities."
The superintendent said that district officials were not previously aware of the event before it unfolded in August, and that its timing as well as the participation of school personnel would be appropriately dealt with, though he gave no indication of any potential discipline.
As TheBlaze previously reported, the video, which was uploaded to YouTube by First Baptist Villa Rica, caught the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, which sent a letter to the Carroll County School District, demanding that officials investigate the baptism ceremony and calling it an “egregious constitutional violation.”
"Please reply detailing the steps being taken to bring Carroll County Schools into compliance with the First Amendment," the letter concluded.
The Carroll County School District responded by saying that it would be “looking into the specifics” of the situation and “will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed,” according to WXIA-TV.
The latest reaction from Jones seemingly shows the district's final conclusion on the matter — one that led Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor to conclude that "reason has prevailed."
Williams told TheBlaze last week that he doesn’t believe that anyone did anything wrong in hosting the baptism on the football field, as it was after school hours and before the football team held practice. But he said that he would wait for school board permission before ever holding a similar event in the future.
The pastor also explained that he and the coaches worked diligently to ensure that they were following the rules, which is why the event was not mandated for the players, and was held after school hours.
“I do not regret the baptisms at all, because that stands alone in the word of God, however what I regret is any kind of problems it would have caused the school district, the principal, the coaches — that’s not the goal,” Williams said. “The goal was just to do what they had asked me to do. We looked at the rules, which clearly stated it couldn’t be during school times and it couldn’t be something the kids had to come to.”
Watch the baptisms below:
Williams said that he doesn’t understand “why there’s a beef with it,” explaining that it was the high school football players who asked to be baptized based on decisions to become Christian that were made during events that were previously held off school property.
He said that there were 23 students who accepted Jesus and became Christians during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference over the summer, with others later doing the same at another event that was held at the church; these individuals sought baptisms on the field.
A coach was also reportedly baptized.
Williams also said that residents and teams from all over Georgia and Alabama have been supporting the Villa Rica High School football players, and explained some of the positives that he saw come out of the mass baptism.
“In all this racial tension going on — and ‘Black Lives Matter,’ police getting killed — my thing is, if you watch this video, you see African American kids getting baptized, you see white kids getting baptized, you see hispanic kids,” Williams said. “And they’re all coming up hugging each other and high fiving.”