The Carroll County School System is investigating an incident in which several members of a local high school football team and one of their coaches were reportedly baptized on-field before practice.
The event, which raises questions about the presence of religion in schools, took place Aug. 17 at Villa Rica High School.
“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,” Assistant Superintendent Terry S. Jones said in a brief emailed statement. “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.”
A letter sent to the school district by the Freedom from Religion Foundation said First Baptist Church of Villa Rica posted a video of the event online, and that it shows “several players and a coach being baptized, presumably by a church representative, before football practice on school property.”
The video, which has since been removed from the church’s YouTube channel, was reportedly accompanied by the following message: ““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!”
Those and other details raised the eyebrows of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which asked Carroll County schools to instruct 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.”
Federal guidelines released in 2003 say that “teachers and other public school officials may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities.”
Georgia schools and athletic teams have been no strangers to religious battles in recent years.
A federal lawsuit challenging coach- and teacher-led prayer at Hall County high schools was dismissed in July, eight months after photos surfaced apparently showing those activities at Gainesville’s Chestatee High School.
In October, the school board in Madison County voted to remove Bible verses from a monument in front of a local high school’s football stadium.
Just last week, Macon TV station WMAZ reported that the marching band at West Laurens High School was asked to stop playing the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.”
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