The Carroll County School district in Georgia is investigating an incident involving a number of local high school football players and a mass baptism on school grounds that took place before a football practice.
“The Carroll County School System was made aware of a situation that took place at Villa Rica High School prior to football practice on August 17th. The District is currently looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed.”
The district began its investigation after video footage of the event, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, popped up on YouTube. “We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.
A letter was sent by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to Carroll County asking the district to investigate the incident and take appropriate action to ensure that no more “illegal religious events” take place on school grounds. The letter discussed a lawsuit filed against Emanuel County School District by the FFRF for similar events in which the group is seeking punitive and personal liability damages. The letter ends by saying, “We prefer to settle these matters cooperatively” and includes a request for details to be provided pertaining with how the school district is planning to better comply with the First Amendment, report Matthew Pearl and Julie Wolfe for WXIA.
The group asked the district to inform coaches and school staff “that they cannot participate in religious activities with students while acting in their official capacity.”
“It is illegal for coaches to participate in religious activities with students, including prayer and baptisms,” the FFRF’s letter, signed by a staff attorney, said. “Nor can coaches allow religious leaders to gain unique access to students during school-sponsored activities.”
According to federal guidelines released in 2003, teachers and other public school officials are not allowed to lead prayer sessions with their students, nor may they participate in devotional readings of the Bible or any other sort of religious activity.
This is not the first time that schools and athletic teams in Georgia have come under fire concerning religion. In July, a federal lawsuit pertaining to coach and teacher-led prayer sessions at Hall County high schools was dismissed. Last October found Bible verses removed from a monument in front of a high school football field. And just last week, the West Laurens High School marching band was told they could no longer play the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.”
The video has since been removed from YouTube.