In a situation that repeats itself daily all around the country, the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to a high school in Georgia about the actions of its football coach, who apparently thinks his job is to turn his players into Christians.
In an August 21 letter, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines, to investigate complaints over practices by Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis. According to FFRF’s local complainant, Ridgeland, like Soddy Daisy and UTC, conducts prayers at school football games, in this case often organized or led by Mariakis. “It is illegal for a public school athletic coach to lead a team in prayer,” wrote Seidel, citing numerous legal cases including Supreme Court decisions.
Mariakis is accused by the complainant of shuttling players to different churches for pre-game meals and “at these events the church’s preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion.” Mariakis has stated publicly that the program “opens the door for some of the kids” and is “a way of meeting the need of the churches.” Ministers will “bless the food” andaccording to one church, “presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to the players.
Seidel called this practice an “egregious violation” which must cease immediately.
FFRF is also calling attention to allegations that Mariakis uses bible verses as motivational tools and places pressure on players to attend a religious football camp. “Even if Mariakis is simply suggesting attendance, his position as head coach in charge of playing time, impregnates any suggestion with force. Playing time leads to scholarships and college; it should be a question of merit only, not religion,” Seidel wrote.
This is very common in sports programs, especially those with coaches affiliated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.