Atheist group tackles prayer at Coweta high school

The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Coweta County School System have apparently resolved an issue over an end-of-game prayer by the East Coweta High School  football team.

School employees cannot participate in student-led prayers.

The issue was raised after video surfaced of head coach John Small praying with his players after a game. In photos online, Small is shown bowing his head with his hands on the shoulders of several kneeling players.

In an Oct. 25  letter to Coweta County School System Superintendent Steve Barker, the Wisconsin-based  Freedom from Religion Foundation, which said it works to protect separation between church and state,  took issue with Small’s role.

Small participated in the prayer although  it was initiated by students and a volunteer community coach,  said Dean Jackson, the district spokesman.


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The Freedom from Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with 29,000 members nationwide, including 400 in Georgia.

“Coach Small’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” the letter said. “Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as head coach of the Coweta High School (sic) football team.”


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The foundation said Small should not be allowed to organize or advocate for students to lead team prayer.

Barker asked Small asked school board attorney Nathan T.  Lee to provide the district with legal guidance.

“Representatives of the school cannot participate in any student-initiated or student-led prayer or other worship while acting in their official capacity,” Lee’s memo stated. “For instance, they cannot join hands, bow their heads, take a knee or commit another act that otherwise manifests approval with the students’ religious experience.”

The memo was distributed to all school principals. Barker also met with coaches from the three public schools in his district to discuss religious activity and school events.

In a statement sent to local media, that the district also sent to The Atlanta Constitution, Small said the situation " has made this community even stronger and better. There is so much support for our students and our schools in this great community. We have some amazing young people in our schools that desire to lead in many ways and through all of this we can already see the leadership of our students grow.”

That was apparently enough to satisfy the FFRF.

"We consider this to be over," said Christopher Line, of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. "The school district did the right thing."