Members of the the Cannon County, Tennessee, high school football team and their coach, T. J. Daniels, take trips to different churches, listen to Christian devotionals before games and watch faith-based football movies.
"It is hard to explain, because we went one year and it just snowballed," Daniels told The Cannon Courier in October. "Churches wanted us to come and visit, and we said, 'This is a good thing.' We do not make it mandatory. We are like, 'Hey we are going to church together, and we would love for you to go.' We go visit and they feed us. It just kind of happens."
One of the churches the team has visited is the First Baptist Church of Woodbury.
Pastor Dr. Hunter Hay, who heads the church, told the newspaper via email: "The focus of our message while hosting the football team centered on the deeper meaning of the game and winning. Having had the opportunity to play football I took the time to speak to the standards we use for determining who is a winner."
The players also listen to devotionals from Andy Herzer, founder of 1st Shot, an organization that states its vision is: "Empowering children's lives by positive reinforcement of Christ-like characteristics that will enable them to achieve the full potential in their generation."
The Cannon County Football Boosters posted a picture on Facebook of some of the players wearing ties on Nov. 1 with the caption: "Thank you to Centerhill Baptist church for welcoming the football team this morning for services and meal!"
On Oct. 25, the boosters posted another picture of the boys in ties in front of a church with the caption: "Thank you to Hollow Springs Community Church for welcoming the football team for service and meal."
While several players expressed to The Cannon Courier how much they like these religious activities, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Cannon County School District on Nov. 24 calling for an end to the faith-based events led by Daniels, and the devotionals by Herzer.
According to the Friendly Atheist, the FFRF letter states in part: "Coach Daniels’ conduct — taking the team to various churches and inviting someone to give devotionals before each game — is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee."
"Certainly, he represents the school and the team when he acts in his official role as head coach of the CCHS football team. Therefore, he cannot bring in a speaker for the purpose of giving a devotional and he cannot take his football players to church, either."
"When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates a team devotional and team church attendance, he effectively endorses religion on the District’s behalf."