AHA Warns Schools About Religious Proselytizing in Football Programs

The American Humanist Association’s Apignini Humanist Legal Center has sent a letter to two high schools in Georgia where the football coaches are allegedly violating the Establishment Clause by using their position to promote Christianity by praying with students and quoting the Bible on team documents.

The letter claims that football coaches at Chestatee High School have regularly led and participated in prayer with students, and provides a photograph of the activity as evidence. Additional claims, also supported by photographs, show that official team documents, workout sheets, and pregame banners have featured prominent references to Bible verses. The letter warns that these actions violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“When a teacher or coach leads or participates in prayer with students, the prayers become sponsored by the school,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The cases make clear that public schools must not even give the appearance of taking a position on religious belief, yet in this program we see ongoing biblical verses and references to religion. This evidences a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of all students.”

The letter demands that the football coaching staff stop leading and taking part in team prayers and that the school remove all biblical references and religious messages from team documents and other materials.

You can read the full letter here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • rationalinks

    Cue outcry from fundies claiming persecution in 3…2….1….

  • scienceavenger
  • dhall

    Except that the only one possibly bullying the kids are the coaches . . . AHA is not targeting the kids, but the coaches . . . But then again, it sounds so much better to say that you’re just protecting the kids from those evil godless bullies …………………….

  • Doc Bill

    The response I’ve seen to this so far consists of repetitions that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution. Over and over and over. #BrokenRecord

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    But if they don’t pray, how will God know which team should win?

  • John Pieret

    Congressman Doug Collins:

    In Hall County and throughout Georgia’s 9th district, we understand and respect the Constitution and cherish our right to worship in our own way.”

    Yeah, by having the government make everyone do it your way.

    I suspect that the atheists truly believe that Christian football coaches who pray with there are religious extremists.

    No, we think they are government employees and that they shouldn’t be using everyone’s tax money to proselytize their religion.

  • Chiroptera

    John Pieret, #6: No, we think they are government employees and that they shouldn’t be using everyone’s tax money to proselytize their religion.

    We also think that the coaches are in a position of authority, and even with the very best of intentions on the part of coaches, teachers, and staff, there are going to be some students and players who will feel awkward, even being coerced, if they were to try to refuse to take part.

  • loren

    I’ve seen this story discussed in various places online, and a frequent omission seems to be the actual text of the two Bible verses cited. They are:

    Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

    Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

    Now the team surely isn’t doing itself any favors by citing the verses by book and number, rather than quoting them. But given the actual content of the verses, as seen above, I’m inclined to think that the team would be on defensible ground if they just quoted the text of the verses, instead of just the citations. Because the content of the verses isn’t religious or evangelical, or even spiritual. Rather, they’re *motivational* in an everyday sense, and without the Biblical citations, they might as well be from a nineteenth century secular poet; it’s fairly straightfoward Bible-as-literature, not as scripture. Thus, if the team *really* wanted to retain those references, they could probably do so just by changing how they’re presented.

    (I did a cursory search, Google not Lexis, for caselaw involving public schools and Bible verses. The ones I found all involved overtly religious language, e.g. references to Jesus or God or salvation, etc. If there are any cases concerning the above sort of non-religious language, I’d be interested in seeing it. )

    With that said, whether the ‘prayer’ stands or falls might depend on more information than we have here. Because all we actually have is an undated photo and the demand letter’s unsourced statement that such prayers are happening regularly, but without any details as to what is *said* in them. If it turns out the coaches have been leading prayers, then yeah, that’s not gonna fly. But given the paucity of information at hand, it’s possible that what’s depicted in the AHA’s photo isn’t actually a religious prayer.

    (The photographer has strangely locked the football photo gallery where these photos came from. *Just* the football gallery, not the other sports. And the entire gallery seems to have only 26 photos, a fraction of the other sports galleries, which is also curious: http://rleadphotography.smugmug.com/SportsActionphotography-2)

  • skinnercitycyclist

    @loren

    I’m inclined to think that the team would be on defensible ground if they just quoted the text of the verses, instead of just the citations

    Yeah, I am a public school teacher and I use phrases from the bible all the time, e.g. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” which does not really come across as a bible verse anymore anyway. I always remember that Bertolt Brecht, when asked what book had influenced that atheist/Marxist most, replied: “Sie werden lachen: die Bibel,” “You’ll laugh: the bible.”

  • Michael Heath

    I don’t have a problem with public schools citing a bible verse and its point of reference that aren’t proselytizing, religious, or distinctly sectarian. The two verses are truisms which I find aren’t necessarily unconstitutional.

    I do think it’s unconstitutional for the government to reference only the book/chapter/verse without also publishing the actual content of what they reference as they do here. And all government prayer has got to go – all of it in any context; with the arguable exception of chaplains in the military.

  • John Pieret

    But given the actual content of the verses, as seen above, I’m inclined to think that the team would be on defensible ground if they just quoted the text of the verses, instead of just the citations.

    Yes and no. Generally, under Constitutional law, you can’t do with a wink and a nod what you can’t do explicitly. Take those 10 Commandment monuments that are supposedly erected on government land as part of a “limited public forum” where the rules for inclusion somehow keep all other non-officially-approved religious/philosophical ideas out. On the other hand, skinnercitycyclist is quite correct that a lot of the Bible has passed so much into common parlance that it no longer carries religious connotations. Sometimes, even when they retain religious connotations, they should be allowed. You shouldn’t have to fear teaching Steinbeck’s East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath just because most people (except, perhaps, fundies, who don’t really read the Bible) know that the titles, as well as the themes, come from the Bible.

    It is a tricky line (sometimes) to distinguish proselytizing from cultural education.

    If it turns out the coaches have been leading prayers, then yeah, that’s not gonna fly.

    On that point, it is sufficient to be unconstitutional if the coaches were participating in a “prayer circle” (let’s not be too naive here, Federal courts generally aren’t) with the students during school-sponsored events, be it practice or during or after games. Participation is “endorsement,” which government and its employees are not allowed to do.

  • grantly

    @Modus “But if they don’t pray, how will God know which team should win?”

    Well, he could just use random chance.

    Which looks a lot like how the natural world already operates…. oh, snap.