FFRF calls foul over religious promotion in Ala. district football program

A group of school kids with blurred faces sit underneath a school spirit sign that reads "GOD Team Me"

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that the Jefferson County School District in Alabama end religious coercion in its football program.

FFRF has been informed that Oak Grove High School’s head football coach has been using his position and his affiliation with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to infuse the school’s football program with religion and promote his personal religious beliefs to players. Most egregiously, the football program has reportedly adopted the motto, “God, Team, Me,” and the religious message has been posted in the team’s locker room, as well as on official team shirts. The playoff hoodies in 2023 included a bible verse from Proverbs 27:17.

FFRF is urging the coach to immediately stop engaging in religious activity or otherwise promoting his personal religious beliefs in his role as a football coach, and for the district to remove the godly motto and make certain that official district apparel no longer includes religious messages or bible verses.

“Jefferson County Schools must ensure that this school-sponsored religious coercion ends immediately,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Walter B. Gonsoulin Jr.

Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, FFRF emphasizes. It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion. By allowing the football coach to promote his personal religious beliefs and display religious messages on school property, the district displays clear favoritism for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above other faiths.

The coach has been using his role as a district employee to officially promote his personal religious beliefs to students, and to impose those beliefs as part of the football program. This religious coercion is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians or do not subscribe to religion. With up to half of young Americans now identifying as religiously unaffiliated, a significant number of students and families will undoubtedly feel excluded from the district when messages and displays promoting Christianity are in the locker room or on school apparel.

In order to respect the First Amendment rights of students, the district needs to take immediate action.

“The district must see to it that players are not being required to pray to play or otherwise expected to wear clothing with religious slogans or walk past religious signage,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “Religious coercion in sports programs unfortunately is all-too-frequent — and these violations against freedom of conscience need to be curbed.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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