Complaint prompts Georgia high school football team to stop volunteer-led prayer

Russell Davis leads the Dawson County High School football team in a pregame prayer.

Russell Davis leads the Dawson County High School football team in a pregame prayer.

The controversial area of prayer in public schools has prompted action by a North Georgia district regarding a football team.

A former “character coach” will no longer lead students in prayer after a non-profit group made a complaint about prayer before Dawson County High School football games, according to the school district.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation on Sept. 21 asked that the school system investigate a resident's complaint about Russell Davis, once listed as Dawson County High School football team "character coach."  He is now listed as a volunteer and will no longer lead the team in pre-game prayer.

A video posted by a parent Sept. 7 on Facebook shows Davis, also a local pastor, leading the Dawson County team in a pregame prayer in the locker room.

In a letter to the school, the foundation wrote, “It is well-settled law that schools cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for students, or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief, because public schools may not advance or promote religion.”

The school “cannot allow non-school adults access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to ministers seeking to grow and target their religious ministries using students.”

Dawson County schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs made changes after receiving the FFRF letter.

“After reviewing the information provided and conversations with appropriate school officials,” his statement read, “the district is committed to following the parameters set forth in the First Amendment, and the court decisions interpreting the First Amendment, relating to both the establishment of religion and student’s rights to exercise their freedom of religion.

“We believe that our coaches have an understanding of those guidelines and will abide by them.”

According to multiple reports, the team continued to pray before its most recent game against Lumpkin County, but without leadership from coaches.

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