Allegations that a high school in Pittsburg, Texas, is violating the First Amendment through the promotion of Christianity have sparked a debate in the city.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization based in Wisconsin, sent a letter to Pittsburg Independent School District Superintendent Judy Pollan on April 2, outlining how and why the school was violating the First Amendment of the Constitution and the holdings of the federal court.
According to FFRF staff attorney Sam Grover the organization received an email from a Pittsburg parent who claimed baseball coach and school administrator Tommy Stewart, “imposed his personal beliefs onto his players,” by forcing them to attend Bible study after practice or face consequences.
In response, Pollan has maintained Bible study is not mandatory.
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“Coach is attempting to teach character development to our students,” Pollan told KLTV 7. “We are not requiring anybody to do Bible study or to do things that they do not feel comfortable with.”
In addition to the Bible study sessions, FFRF claims the religious videos Stewart shows to players after practice, such as the film "God’s Not Dead," and the school’s varsity practice jerseys, which read, “With God, all things are possible” along the back, are also in violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of the separation of church and state.
Robert Peoples, a local resident, believes the issue is not one of faith, but of balance. He said that a student had told him the Bible study sessions were not optional and that players who didn’t attend would “be reprimanded” by having to run laps.
“We want our children to understand God… to have a personal relationship with God, but we also want our children to understand the Constitution and the laws of the land,” Peoples told KLTV 7.
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Peoples has expressed disappointment in regard to the backlash against the allegations on social media and said that he saw one post recommending that the person who made the initial complaint “be shot and be moved out of Pittsburg."
Many Pittsburg students and parents have stood firmly behind the school and coach since the issue began.
"We are a team that supports God,” Dalton Warrick, a sophomore at the high school, told KTRE 9. “Nothing is forced on us."
Pollan told KLTV 7 she has been overwhelmed by the response of parents whom she says have “complete support of coach Stewart.”
“It is a freedom of religion issue,” said Pollan. “We do have the right in this country to exercise our own religious freedom.”
Image Source: Screen Capture Via KLTV 7