FFRF exposes Ala. public school team baptism

Tallapoosa Baptism

A team baptism in Tallapoosa County Schools on school property with staff in attendance is constitutionally all wet, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

On Nov. 21, the football team of Reeltown High School (located in Notasulga, Ala.) participated in a baptism event that was held on school premises with school staff members, including the head football coach, present.

It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district.

“Courts have consistently held that it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious activity at public high school athletic events, such as football practice,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Joseph C. Windle. “In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. As school-sponsored activities, football team events cannot include any endorsement of religion or religious rituals.”

Tallapoosa County Schools students will perceive the Reeltown High School baptism as endorsed by the school, since this religious ritual took place on school property with school staff members present, FFRF contends. Most importantly, allowing outside adults to perform religious rituals specific to one religion — in this case Christianity — at a team event, ostracizes those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion. Currently, 30 percent of the country is non-Christian, with roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population having no religious affiliation whatsoever; among Millennials, the “unaffiliated” figure jumps to 38 percent. The freedom of conscience of such students must be respected.

“It’s an egregious overstep for public school officials to put Christian baptism in the playbook,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF asks that the school district take the appropriate steps to ensure there will be no further religious rituals, including baptisms, during school-sponsored activities.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Photo has been blurred to protect the students' privacy.

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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