FFRF ringing alarm on coach-led prayers in Tenn. district

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FFRF is raising serious concern over a proselytizing coach in a Tennessee school district.

A concerned parent reported that the coach of the DeKalb County High School boys and girls soccer teams has been proselytizing to and praying with both groups.

The coach reportedly leads the teams in prayer before each game and has taken his student athletes on trips where he has led bible studies and required they sing Christian songs. One student described being “very, very uncomfortable” after being proselytized to and required to participate in religious exercises.

FFRF initially contacted the district in October 2017 regarding unconstitutional staff organization of a “See You at the Pole” event at DeKalb West Elementary School. The district has yet to respond to this complaint.

It is well-settled law that public athletic school coaches may not lead their teams in prayer, FFRF reminds the school district, and the Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored religious activities because they constitute a government advancement and endorsement of religion.

“[The coach’s] conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” writes FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line in his letter to Director of Schools Patrick Cripps. “Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official capacity as a coach of the DeKalb County High School soccer teams.”

FFRF is insisting that the district commence an immediate investigation into the alleged complaints and take action to stop any and all staff-led prayers and religious activities occurring within district athletic programs.

“Coach-led prayer at public school athletic events is divisive and often makes student athletes feel like outsiders on their own team,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “This coach may pray in any way he would like on his own time, but he may not impose those practices on his athletes.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including nearly 400 members in Tennessee and an East Tennessee chapter. 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.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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