The “mass baptism” reportedly involved at least one coach and multiple Villa Rica High School football players. (Credit: 11Alive via YouTube)

District: Ga. principal unaware football team would join baptisms

Villa Rica High School and its principal should not have allowed a local church to perform on-field baptisms at its football stadium last month, a Carroll County School System investigation concluded.

In a statement sent Monday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carroll County School System Assistant Superintendent Terry Jones said principal Glen Harding approved First Baptist Church of Villa Rica’s activities at the school on Aug. 12. The so-called “mass baptism” reportedly involved at least one coach and multiple players on the Villa Rica football team and drew the ire of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to the school stating that it is “illegal for coaches to participate in religious activities with students.”

Jones’ statement said the school district “had no knowledge that this event was scheduled to happen at VRHS.”

“The principal’s understanding was that the event was a church sponsored activity that was to be conducted after school and he was not aware of student involvement,” the statement said. “From the investigation the school district has concluded that VRHS failed to follow district facility usages procedures for outside groups using school facilities.”

The baptisms took place after school and just before the football team’s practice. The letter sent to the school district earlier this month by the Freedom from Religion Foundation said First Baptist Church of Villa Rica posted a video online showing “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!”

The school district said it is addressing “concerns regarding the timing of the event and the participation of school personnel” with the appropriate parties. More specific information about possible changes going forward was not provided.

“The school district is committed to continuing to work with our local community while meeting state and federal guidelines,” the statement said.

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.”

Carroll County is on the Georgia-Alabama border, about 50 miles west of Atlanta.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.