FFRF is asking officials to cease imposing religious proselytizing on a high school football team in Georgia.
A concerned resident has reported that Dawson County High School in Gainesville, Ga., employs a “character coach,” Pastor Russell Davis from Etowah Church, to regularly pray with its football team.
A video posted on Facebook on Sept. 7, shows Pastor Davis leading the football team and several young children in prayer in what appears to be the school locker room.
“The Word says when they compelled him to carry the cross, and then Jesus went to the hill and he won the victory on the cross. Your goal tonight is not to die on the cross. It’s not to die on the field of battle,” Pastor Davis says in the video. “We’re calling you tonight to carry their cross.”
“Let’s pray together, Lord, we thank you, God, for another day,” Davis continues. “We thank you for an opportunity to play the game that we call football. Father, I pray that everything tonight will be for your glory.” He then leads the team in the Lord’s Prayer.
It is well-settled law that schools cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for students, or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief, because public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF’s letter reminds the school.
The school “cannot allow non-school adults access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to ministers seeking to grow and target their religious ministries using students,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line writes. “This is a violation of both students’ and parents’ rights.”
FFRF is requesting that Dawson County Schools investigate the complaint and take immediate action to ensure that its football program is no longer allowing religious leaders access to its students or violating students’ rights by promoting religion in their school.
“Both school and religious officials are free to offer prayer in their private lives however often they would like,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But when they are acting in the official capacity of the state, they are violating the constitutional rights of impressionable young students by inciting prayer and promoting religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including over 500 members in Georgia. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.