An Oklahoma school district has promised to give a preachy coach a talking-to following the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s intercession. FFRF’s intervention seems to have resulted in a home run for the U.S. Constitution.
An area resident contacted FFRF with concerns about promotion of religion in Arapaho-Butler Public Schools’ athletic programs. Matt Oakes, head softball coach and a teacher at Arapaho-Butler High School, had reportedly been using his position to preach and proselytize to district students. Oakes has co-founded a sports-based ministry called Crossing Home that he uses in conjunction with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to promote and endorse his personal religion. Many other coaches and school staff members are involved in this effort and they can be seen proselytizing through videos on Crossing Home’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
For example, on May 19 of this year, Laci Friesen, an assistant softball coach, preached to students at what appeared to be a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. She told students, “We can do anything if we look to God for our strength,” and read James 1:22-4: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” And in a video posted on May 27, Friesen delivered a “weekly devotional” on what appears to be the school’s athletic field. She also explained that she is Oakes’ assistant.
It is well-settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion, FFRF points out.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for district staff to organize, lead or promote a Christian club or to otherwise use their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Arapaho-Butler Public Schools Superintendent Jay Edelen. “To avoid the appearance of endorsing a religious club, the district may not allow teachers or outside adults to be involved in student religious clubs beyond a supervisory capacity. Schools should not allow religious employees to treat schools as a recruiting ground for their religious mission.”
This conduct raised serious concerns that Coach Oakes, Coach Friesen and other coaches within the district are proselytizing and promoting their religion directly to students as well, FFRF emphasized. The state/church watchdog asked the district to immediately investigate and ensure that its coaches and teachers were not promoting or endorsing their personal religious beliefs to students — and received quick feedback.
“It is the policy of Arapaho-Butler Public Schools that no teacher or coach should use their position to promote or endorse their religious beliefs on students,” the school district superintendent replied. “We will discuss this with each of our employees in-depth to make sure they understand the ramifications.”
FFRF appreciates the district’s positive response.
“It’s great that the school district has taken notice of the coach’s behavior,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re confident that it will not hesitate to call him ‘out’ if such behavior continues.”
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members across the country, including members in Oklahoma. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.