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Texas district reins in proselytizing coaches per FFRF’s advice

A Texas public school district has addressed unconstitutional religious promotion by its basketball coaches after the Freedom From Religion Foundation called a constitutional foul.

A concerned community member recently reported to FFRF that basketball coaches at Connally High School (located in Pflugerville, Texas) had been leading their teams in prayer. One of the coaches, Bradley Washington, had also established the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) program at the high school. In an online FCA video, Washington stated that “there was no FCA here, and I’m not gonna apologize for trying to pour it into the young kids’ life. Basketball won’t be a part of your life forever, but Jesus will.” FFRF was also informed that Washington and other coaches have been allowing FCA representatives to attend official basketball practices, where they proselytize to and pray with teams.

FFRF promptly wrote a letter to Pflugerville Independent School District Superintendent Douglas Killian urging the district to take immediate steps to end these illegal practices. The First Amendment, FFRF reminded the district, prohibits coaches from praying with players, participating in student meetings with outside religious groups and from transforming their tax-funded athletic programs into evangelical organizations.

“The conduct of these coaches is unconstitutional because it endorses religion while acting in their official capacity,” FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote. “Certainly, the coaches represent the school and the team when acting in their role as coaches of the Connally High School Cougars. Therefore, when they participate in team prayer and subject student athletes to proselytization by outside adults at basketball practice, they endorse religion on the district’s behalf.”

The superintendent has responded by email to assure FFRF that the district is taking action to correct these violations. Killian reports he has “reached out to the athletic director and deputy superintendent to investigate and correct and shared to get some training in place with our attorney for the coaches and sponsors.”

FFRF applauds the district for taking steps to correct these violations and to ensure they do not recur.

“We commend district leadership for taking these issues seriously,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for churches during school-sponsored events.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,300 members in Texas and a Dallas-Forth Worth 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.