The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national atheist group, said it “has put an end to a Georgia high school coach’s practice of praying with his players.”
- The FFRF said in a news release that a “concerned local community member” told the group that John Small — the football coach of East Coweta High School football in Sharpsburg — “had made it a habit to pray with his team, which was filmed at a recent game.”
- The video in question was posted to Facebook on Sept. 15 apparently after an East Coweta win that night. Small is in the middle of the frame with short blonde hair. Another man next to Small appears to be praying out loud:
- So the FFRF said it sent an Oct. 25 letter to the Coweta County School System “warning that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to further personal religious beliefs by leading their teams in prayer. Coach-led prayers, FFRF points out, equate to a government advancement and endorsement of religion — a stark violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
- The FFRF added that public school coaches also must refrain “from participating in students’ prayers … When a public school employee in that official role organizes and advocates for team prayer, religion is endorsed on the district’s behalf.”
- The FFRF also said it requested the district “take immediate action to end school-sponsored prayers plaguing the school district’s athletic programs.”
How did the district respond?
- The FFRF said the district “promptly responded” saying in an Oct. 26 letter that Superintendent Steve Barker “met with the principals of all three high schools to inform them that neither school staff nor volunteer staff may lead or participate in religious activity before, during or after high school football games.”
- The district on Thursday told TheBlaze that in response to the FFRF letter, the school board attorney sent a memo to all principals in the district outlining federal law with respect to prayer in public schools.
- The district sent TheBlaze a copy of the memo, which says “representatives of the school cannot participate in any student initiated/student-led prayer or other worship while acting in their official capacity. For instance, they cannot join hands, bow their heads, take a knee or commit another act that otherwise manifests approval with the students’ religious exercise, at least where it would be perceived by a reasonable observer to display government endorsement of religion.”
- The memo went on to say, however, that “nothing compels an employee to make their non-participation vehemently obvious or to leave or flee the religious observance or prayer. Additionally, an employee is allowed to have supervisory or custodial role in student initiated and run organizations, so long that it is clear that role is custodial.”
- Small didn’t immediately respond Thursday to TheBlaze’s request for comment.
How did the FFRF react?
- “We appreciate the district’s swift action to address the violation and its commitment to protecting the rights of conscience for all of its students,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
What else has the Freedom From Religion Foundation been up to this school year?
- It demanded that a Texas high school remove a Christian flag flying on campus — which was met by some students flying the same flag from their vehicles in the school parking lot.
- It demanded that an Alabama high school marching band cease it’s “religious” halftime performances at football games. The school said it would consider removing some props but that the show would remain the same.
- It demanded that a different Alabama high school stop loudspeaker prayers at football games. but after the school complied, students ended up praying out loud in the stands.