Ga. football coach banned from praying w/team

Sunday, November 5, 2017
Michael F. Haverluck (

Bremerton (WA) football team prayerA Georgia high school football coach – along with all other school personnel in the local school system –  has been prohibited by district officials from participating in student-led prayers on and off the field following a complaint about coach-led prayer filed by an atheist organization.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a complaint on October 25 against East Coweta High School football coach John Small for engaging in prayer with his team. The complaint resulted in a formal guidance on “prayer in school” that was issued by the Coweta County School System.

"Representatives of the school cannot participate in any student initiated/student led prayer or worship while acting in their official capacity," Coweta School Board attorney Nathan Lee wrote in a legal memorandum that was issued to employees at all schools in the district, according to The Christian Post (CP).

School staff: Stay away from praying students

It is stressed in the memo that school employees cannot engage in prayer – even if it is student-led.

"[Teachers, coaches and all other staff members 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 obtained by CP reads.

The school attorney went on to claim in the document that his guidance is rooted in legal precedent.

"The courts have left open little leeway in this area, where the historical context of the employee's actions would not cause the perception of government endorsement, but has not definitely articulated what that would look like," Lee continued in the district-wide memo. "Accordingly, it is best to avoid the perception of government endorsement by all employees refraining from any action that may be perceived as endorsement – silent or otherwise. Nevertheless, 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."

Lee was spurred to disseminate the guidance to school personnel across the district in response to a letter that was sent  to Coweta County School System Superintendent Steve Barker by FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line, who included with his written complaint a photo of Small praying with his team.

“Although it is not made clear as to when the picture was taken of Small praying with his team, Line argues that Small's praying with his student-athletes is an entanglement of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” CP’s Samuel Smith noted.

Atheists dictating school policy

Without providing legal proof in his letter, Line claims that the football coach is restricted from exercising his freedom of religion – by praying along with his players – after stepping onto school property.

"Coach Small's conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee," Line alleged in his letter, according to CP. "Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as Head Coach of the [East] Coweta High School football team. Therefore, he cannot lead his team in prayer and he cannot organize or advocate for students to lead team prayer either."

An immediate probe into Small’s conduct was demanded by Line in the letter, which also called for the entire school system to cease all school-sponsored prayer taking place in every athletic program run by the district.

Caving in to the secular group’s demand, school officials did exactly what they were told to do – without understanding what the Constitution truly says about the freedom of religion in state-run institutions.

“Dean Jackson, a spokesperson for the school system, told CP on Monday that after receiving Line's letter, Barker asked the school board attorney to provide legal guidance on the matter,” Smith pointed out. “After receiving the guidance from Lee, Barker met with the principals of the three district high schools to inform them of the guideline on prayer on Friday. Lee's memorandum was then sent to the principals of all the other schools in the system on Monday.”

Rehashing the same debunked argument using the Establishment Clause – which was not intended to keep religion out of schools – FFRF’s Line insists that school employees have no freedom to express their religion at school

“Coach Small’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” Line wrote in the letter he sent to Barker.

Celebating sacking prayer in schools

Boasting about the entire school system bowing down to her atheist group’s unwarranted directives, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor publicized her organization’s victory over the Georgia schools. She commended Barker for meeting with the principles across the Coweta County School System and informing all of their paid and voluntary school staff that they are strictly prohibited from leading teams in prayer or taking part in player-led prayer – or participating in any other religious activities whatsoever.

"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," Gaylor announced in an FFRF press release issued on Oct. 27.

Part of the guidance stated the obvious – that students are allowed the same freedom of religion to pray and participate in faith-based student-led groups on campus – liberties that were never intended to be stripped from children once they enter the school gates.

“The Coweta County School System guidance on prayer in school also included sections on how schools should give equal access to religious and nonreligious on-campus student groups and how schools should protect the rights of students to engage in voluntary prayer on school property before, during and after the school day,” Smith noted.

Nationwide attack on God

FFRF’s campaign to eradicate God from schools in the South does not stop in the Peach State, as the atheist group has been busy trying to remove all traces of Christianity from every part of public school campus life, including what goes up on flagpoles to what comes out of tubas blown by marching bands.

“[FFF] 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,” TheBlaze reported. “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.”

FFRR’s latest assault on Christianity in the schools comes on the heels of a decision issued in August by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against the football coach of Bremerton High School in Washington state after he sued the school district for violating his religious freedom  constitutional rights by punishing him after he kneeled during post-game midfield prayers.


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