A Georgia high school football team is making a statement through faith after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the school system warning it is illegal for the team's coach to lead students in prayer.
The FFRF, a national group that advocates for the separation of church and state, contacted the school system after it received a tip that a high school football coach led his team in prayer before games, according to a press release from the organization. The press release included a screengrab of a video showing East Coweta High School football coach John Small praying with his team before a game.
The FFRF's letter to the Coweta County School System warned that Small's role as public school employee meant he was mixing church and state, a constitutional violation.
"Coach Small's conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee," FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote in the letter.
Superintendent Steve Barker quickly met with principals to issue a ban on school staff leading or participating in prayers during football games. FFRF does not object to student-led prayers.
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to a Georgia high school coach's practice of praying with his players," the FFRF's press release declared.
The Christian Post reports during before the first game following the ban, the East Coweta football team gathered near the stands and prayed with the audience. Small said the prayer wasn't led by him or any school employee:
Our students have done a great job and our students took it upon themselves to organize a prayer with our students in the stands before the game. Instead of it being 100 players praying, it turned into 400 students praying. That's their right and we are going to support them in that. I think what is happened with this organization [FFRF], whatever their intent was, you tell teenagers they can't do something, surely they are going to do it. It has really turned into a positive because at the end of the day, we are trying to teach students about leadership and they should be the ones taking the charge on it anyway.
Small said he and his coaching staff won't be leading the prayer going forward but they will still participate to support their players.
"We are not allowed to be in the middle of it but we have a right to be there with our players. We don't have to flee [the scene]," he said. "If my head is bowed, nobody can tell me what I am thinking. I am not leading the prayer. I am there supporting my kids. Whether I am praying or not, nobody can say I am or I ain't."