FFRF insists that Tenn. school district prohibit religious ceremonies

Screenshot of social media post of high school basketball players washing each others feet with adults watching

Stop inviting outside adults to engage in religious observances with students, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Robertson County Schools system in Tennessee.

The White House Heritage High School boys basketball coaches invited a representative of the religious organization Middle Tennessee Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Andrew Fortner, to proselytize and indoctrinate student athletes during a recent practice. Fortner reportedly required several basketball players to wash the feet of other students while he read biblical scripture to the students.

A Nov. 1 post on Fortner’s Facebook page, which has since been removed, proclaimed:
5 Heritage players won a free throw shooting competition at practice and knew there would be a prize waiting for them. What was their prize … to wash the feet of their teammates! While we washed feet I read JOHN 13:4-16 and shared how Jesus served his disciples.

I stressed the need for our team leaders to chase the TOWEL over the TITLE. I cannot wait for more time to disciple these boys throughout the season! Shoutout to Robert Green for the lesson idea!
Northern Middle TN 

FFRF is asking Robertson County Schools to investigate the matter and ensure that the White House Heritage High School basketball program ceases infusing the program with religion.

“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to invite and allow a religious organization’s representative to proselytize students or require student athletes to participate in religious activities, including washing students’ feet in order to mimic a story from the bible,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence writes to the legal counsel for the school system “The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored religious exercises in public schools.”

Student athletes are especially susceptible to coercion, FFRF points out. Students know that their coaches control their playing time and positions — directly affecting students’ opportunities for college scholarships and recruitment. When coaches promote their personal religion to students and invite an outside adult, such as Fortner, to instruct students to act out a biblical story while reading them scripture, the student athletes will no doubt feel that agreeing with their coach’s religious viewpoint and participating in the religious activities is essential to pleasing their coach and being viewed as a team player.

FFRF is demanding that Robertson County Schools immediately investigate this matter and take action to protect its students. The White House Heritage High School boys basketball coaches must be reprimanded and directed to cease including coercive religious activities and practices in the basketball program —  and the district needs to remind all its coaches that they may not proselytize or push their personal religious beliefs onto students nor direct or invite an outside adult to do so.

“School officials should never have allowed such an invasion of their students’ space,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Sports programs and religion should not be permitted to be intertwined.”

You can read the entire FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Tennessee, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. 

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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