A football coach from Georgia’s East Coweta High School who was recently banned from praying with players has revealed that an atheist group’s quest to remove him from invocations has actually sparked an incredible reaction from players and students, alike.
“Our students have done a great job and our students took it upon themselves to organize a prayer with our students in the stands before the game,” John Small told The Christian Post. “Instead of it being 100 players praying, it turned into 400 students praying. That’s their right and we are going to support them in that.”
The coach went as far as to say that the ban preventing him from leading prayer has “really turned into a positive” and that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the atheist group that sparked the entire battle, has actually activated something much more powerful.
“I think what is happened with this organization [FFRF], whatever their intent was, you tell teenagers they can’t do something, surely they are going to do it,” he said. “It has really turned into a positive because at the end of the day, we are trying to teach students about leadership and they should be the ones taking the charge on it anyway.”
As Faithwire previously reported, drama kicked off after a complaint was reportedly waged by someone in the community who filmed Small 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. But football players responded by turning to prayer on their own, as Small noted.
The coach also told The Christian Post that, despite the district’s strict memo cracking down on coach-involved prayer, he doesn’t have to “flee” during student prayer.
“We are not allowed to be in the middle of it but we have a right to be there with our players. We don’t have to flee [the scene],” Small told the Post. “If my head is bowed, nobody can tell me what I am thinking. I am not leading the prayer. I am there supporting my kids. Whether I am praying or not, nobody can say I am or I ain’t.”
Read more about the prayer debate here.
(H/T: Christian Post)