An Alabama school district must immediately cease a local pastor’s access to a high school football team, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding.
A number of local residents have informed the national state/church watchdog that Blount High School football coaches allow a local pastor to act as the team chaplain, regularly preach to the team, and endorse his church to the team. Wesley Davis, a local pastor, routinely leads the team in religious worship and prayer, and many of the players have been baptized together “as a team,” a local story confirms. The article opens with Davis delivering a sermon to the team and explains that he has “weekly visits” with the team.
Mobile County Public Schools must ensure that this school-sponsored religious coercion immediately ends. The U.S. Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools, FFRF reminds Mobile County Public Schools.
“It is unconstitutional for public school employees to direct students to partake in religious activities or to even participate in the religious activities of their students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the school district’s legal counsel. “The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that a coach’s attempts to engage in religious activities with players at team events were unconstitutional because the religious promotion took place ‘during school-controlled, curriculum-related activities that members of the team are required to attend. During these activities [district] coaches and other school employees are present as representatives of the school and their actions are representative of [district] policies.’”
The Supreme Court recently held in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that a high school football coach’s silent, private post-game prayer was constitutional, repeatedly stressing that the coach silently prayed alone. In Blount High School, however, rather than praying privately after games, the team’s coaches have infused religion into the football program, allowing Davis to preach to the team.
The religious coercion occurring within the district’s football program is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians or do not subscribe to any religion. With 32 percent of young Americans classified as nonreligious, this likely represents a significant number of students and families in the school district.
FFRF is asking the district to investigate this matter and take immediate action to protect its students. The team’s coaches must immediately cease infusing the football program with religion, it is insisting, and Davis can no longer be allowed to act as team chaplain or to engage in religious activities with players as part of the football program. The school district’s attorney has informed FFRF that this matter has been “addressed.” FFRF will be closely watching the situation to determine whether this violation has indeed been resolved.
“Permitting a pastor access to a public school athletic team is unconscionable both constitutionally and ethically,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The school district can’t allow this to go on.”
You can read FFRF’s entire letter here.