A high school football coach has reportedly been banned from praying with his players after complaints from an atheist activist group.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group based in Madison, Wisconsin, claimed victory in an Oct. 27 press release, saying that John Small, a football coach from East Coweta High School in Georgia, would no longer be able to invoke God with his team.
The complaint was reportedly waged after someone in the community filmed the coach praying with players; the FFRF promptly responded.
“FFRF sent a 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,” the statement read. “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 organization argued that Small’s behavior was unconstitutional, as he purportedly promoted prayer as an employee of the public school district. The FFRF, thus, urged the district to end the prayer practice and to inform all other employees through school principals that prayer isn’t acceptable for staff or volunteer staff to partake in “before, during or after high school football games.”
An attorney for the school board reportedly circulated a guidance document for staff following the complaint, The Christian Post reported.
That document proclaims that even student-led prayers cannot be joined by teachers, coaches and other staffers. More specifically, the memo instructs staff not to “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.”
In the end, the memo encourages staff to avoid any appearance of a school endorsement of religion. The document — and swift action from the school — left the FFRF more than elated.
“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 in a statement.