YouTube footage of Georgia high school football players taking turns being baptized in a drum of water prompted an investigation. The video (below), filmed at Villa Rica High School in Villa Rica, Georgia, before a team practice, was posted online by First Baptist Villa Rica church.
The team may have been hoping for a viral hit but instead the school got a stern letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The video was taken down from YouTube on Sept. 1.
The Carroll County School System is investigating the mass baptism and said in a statement:
"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. 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."
In a letter obtained by 11Alive, FFRF had strongly urged the district to investigate the incident and to “ensure that there will be no further illegal religious events."
FFRF's letter also noted, “It is illegal for coaches to participate in religious activities with students, including prayer and baptisms. Nor can coaches allow religious leaders to gain unique access to students during school-sponsored activities.”
The First Baptist Villa Rica seemed to be unaware of the legal implications. Its video’s caption reads: “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!”
Villa Rica is not the only city in Georgia to attract the attention of FFRF, a nonprofit that advocates for separation of church and state. FFRF is currently engaged in a lawsuit against another Georgia county school for reportedly pressuring students to pray in class, reports AJC.com.
"I can't remember another case like this," says FFRF co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Starting this video out, they it a step of obedience, and then the camera pans to the students. It’s forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team.
“How are they going to cross their coach? They have no choice. It’s proselytizing, it’s coercive, and it’s not legal in our schools.”
The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Villa Rica has yet to release a statement.