A rural community in Ohio has rallied around a public high school and its football team after a notorious atheist group came knocking.
A threat letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation was sent in early December to East Knox school officials after learning Bulldog football coaches were praying alongside players in post-game “prayer circles” on the field.
East Knox High is located in Howard, a small community of approximately 300 in Knox County.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” the FFRF letter claims, “as it constitutes government endorsement and advancement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The letter acknowledges, however, that FFRF is not objecting because coaches are leading prayers but only bowing their heads alongside East Knox students, an act that itself has been criticized in courtrooms recently.
The most famous case in recent memory is Washington coach Joe Kennedy, who filed a First Amendment lawsuit after he was fired from Bremerton High for refusing to stop kneeling at the 50-yard line after ball games.
A federal court that ruled against Kennedy said the coach promoted “disunity” and risked “alienating valued community members” by praying after football games. After the coach lost his lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case earlier this year.
Atheist groups such as FFRF typically accuse public bodies of violating the Establishment Clause by allowing public displays of faith, instilling school board members, for example, to back down or face a costly lawsuit.
Dave Jones, who pastors Millwood Church of Christ, located in Howard, tells OneNewsNow the community is aware of the FFRF letter and is responding by supporting the school district and its leaders.
"I know a lot of individuals in our community are writing the East Knox School Board letters of support,” he says, “letting them know that as a community we stand behind them.”
He says a church in the community, Central Christian Church, has planned an after-church meal and invited the Bulldog football team to show support and enjoy a meal together.
"If someone doesn't want to pray, or be involved in prayer, that's fine,” says Pastor Jones. “But there are a lot of people that love Christ, and want to glorify God in their lives, and that's the response we're seeing in our community."