When a Public High School Football Coach Takes His Team to Church for Food and Sermons, Why Is Anyone Defending Him?

Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Georgia has a problem.

The football team is led by someone who thinks it’s his duty to preach to students instead of just coaching them. According to a letter (PDF) the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Walker County Schools superintendent:

… on game day, [coach Mark] Mariakis takes the football team to a local church for dinner. We understand that at these events the church’s preacher sermonizes to the players “about the Christian religion”… News reports show that Mariakis leads the team in pre- or post-game prayers. Our complainant reports that Mariakis uses Bible verses on team gear, such as shirts, and in speeches to excite the team… Finally, we have been told that Mariakis pressures players to attend a “Christian football camp that the players have to pay for” and that Mariakis “looks down upon” those who do not attend…

Just to flaunt it, this picture was posted on the team’s Facebook page just a day ago:

How’s that for admitting guilt?

So how is everyone reacting to this news?

Take a guess.

Liberty Counsel offered to defend the school district for free (never denying that churches are brought in to minister to the team):

In its letter to the school superintendent, FFRF makes a number of assertions, leading off with the most ridiculous: “Taking public school football teams to church, even for a meal, is unconstitutional.” Traditionally, ten churches in Rossville, Georgia, take turns feeding the Ridgeland Panthers football team before games. The first meal and game of the season will be on August 31, 2012, unless the FFRF has its way.

This atheist group continues to lick stamps and send frivolous letters with militant zeal designed to hurt communities because of its anti-Christian fixation. Nothing in the Constitution requires communities to abandon common sense and create zones hostile to religion.

The Solid Rock Baptist Church — one of the churches feeding the students — brags about preaching to the public school football players on its website:

This is the 2nd year that SRBC has fed the Ridgeland High School football team before their Friday night game. This is going to be a yearly event at SRBC for several years to come. Bro. Larry Scott spoke to 65 people at this event and presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We praise the Lord for this important outreach event to our community.

FOX News Channel is flipping out, bringing on two lawyers who seem to know nothing about the First Amendment and have no knowledge of the case law calling this very practice unconstitutional (which FFRF cites in its letter):

Cohen admits that if there’s prayer at the churches, there may be a problem. And we have proof that there’s active proselytizing taking place.

At one point, he says if this were unconstitutional, FFRF would just file a lawsuit. That’s not the case. FFRF tries hard not to file lawsuits if the issue can be resolved by the school itself. Their letters warn school districts about the problem and the consequences if they don’t correct the matter at hand. Right now, this district has a chance to fix the mistake. If they choose not to, a lawsuit would probably be forthcoming (assuming FFRF could get a plaintiff with standing for the case).

Todd Starnes (Also of FOX News) amazingly points to a pastor who thinks Christians are the victims here:

The Chattanooga Valley Baptist Church is scheduled to provide a meal for the football team in late October.

Richie White, the church’s youth director, said he was quite surprised to hear that an outside group had issues with feeding children.

“It would be interesting to see what part of the Constitution we violated by simply offering a meal to fellow Americans,” he told Fox News. “These are [kids] from our area that we do love and we do care about.”

White said several members of the church youth group are on the football squad — and it’s been a tradition to show their support for school athletics.
“We as Christians don’t force our religion on anyone,” he said, suggesting that perhaps Christians are treated differently.

“We’re being persecuted because we believe there is a God who created us,” White said. “I don’t think there’s an equal playing field because we base our lives and our views on the Scripture.”

The Christian Post headline reads “Atheists Attack Church for Feeding High School Football Players”… which is wrong on two counts.

Atheists aren’t “attacking” anybody. And they’re certainly not criticizing the churches. FFRF is criticizing the public school for letting a coach turn his football team into the targets of Christian ministry.

Religious Right leader Bryan Fischer says the Constitution doesn’t ban prayer before football games, so it’s ok! But this is a public school and the prayer is coach-led, and courts have said time and again: That is illegal. But he has to chime in or else he’ll become irrelevant. (Funny note: He actually uses the phrase “grinds my gears.”)

All of these people are trying to rationalize an illegal practice.

Let’s face it: If this were a Muslim coach and local imams were preaching to the children while serving them dinner, these conservatives would be up in arms in the other direction, calling for the firing of all the adults involved.

But we’re talking about Christianity. So everything must be legal, right?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • newavocation

    Maybe the Chattanooga Freethought Association should offer the players a free barbecue and turn them on to a little critical thinking. 

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

    I really hope the FFRF is able to file a lawsuit in this case, because if they don’t, the transgressors are sure to claim that this is evidence that the law is on their side.

  • http://twitter.com/SkepticalMagus TheSkepticalMagician

    I would recommend a quick title change for the blog post to something like, “When a Public High School Football Coach Takes His Team to Church for Food and Sermons, Why is Anyone Defending Him?”  I clicked on the link thinking, “What’s wrong with kids from a Christian High School going to church with their coach?”  

  • lellipses

    The comments at the Christian Post are just…sad.  Freedom of religion doesn’t only apply to Christianity, and you can’t have freedom of religion without separating it from the state.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    Good point. Changed!

  • Good and Godless

    Artificially justifing the legitimacy of any religion by tolerance is clearly a flaw. It is unfair this avenue for social treason was not clearly and fully excluded when the 1st Amendment was drafted. 
    It is time to correct that flaw left by our founding fathers and end constraints imposed by myth and superstition.

    Change the constitution remove any rights of religion, as it is demonstrated time and time again that churches cannot be trusted with good policy and respect of rule of law.

    Nations tried religious tolerance for a couple hundred years – and religion abused the relationship crippling politics, education and abusing the tax system.

    No more “live and let live” time to amend the constitution and close down these dens of fraud and deceit.

    Freedom forever, religion never.

  • Tracker

    Quote:”Richie White, the church’s youth director, said he was quite surprised
    to hear that an outside group had issues with feeding children.”

    They say it is a outside group. In reality it is someone from THEIR COMMUNITY going to FFR and FFR is contacting the school. 

    *smacks forehead*

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

    I went to the Christian Post link and, just reading the comments directed towards Athiests, felt such an overwhelming wash of “we hate you” coming from these people…. it was frightening.  Not to mention their ficticious ramblings about how there is never, was never, and can never be separation of church and state.

    I’m practically shaking with reaction, and I used to be Catholic, then non-denom Christian.  How can these people be so hateful to different viewpoints?

  • michael both

    I think with these cases it’s fair to read ‘outside group’ as ‘someone who is not INSIDE our Christian group’.

    When I read these kind of stories I really start to feel that religion poisons everything it touches.

  • Barbara

    These people are Bible-believers, and the Bible deems nonbelievers as automatically being evildoers. This allows the Christian Post commenters feel justified in their hatefulness. Like how that idiotic sense of righteous works? 

  • Barbara

    LOL, I really need to check my writing before hitting send. Sorry for the errors, but I suspect my message is still understood. :)

  • Baby_Raptor

    They lie about what the issue is so they can play the victim. Dog bites man story. 

  • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

    If this were a Muslim coach and local imams were preaching to the
    children while serving them dinner, these conservatives would be up in arms in the other direction, calling for the firing of all the adults involved.

    Maybe this message should be the next atheist billboard.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    Do you know if any of the players/students/staff were offended by any prayer? 

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    While I’ve not noticed you specifically doing what you’re talking about, there have been plenty of people here, on this blog, commenting the same way you described those on Christian Post. 

  • jdm8

    “lick stamps and send frivolous letters with militant zeal”

    So damaging, injurious and destructive, this licking of stamps is! Worse than using government finances, authority and peer pressure to be preached to, which coincidentally has nothing to do with the sport.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Aside from all the other things I don’t like about this situation…when is the Debate Club getting a free meal?  How about the Art students?  How about kids who have participated in a science fair?

  • Aaron Scoggin

    That lady from the video is not doing the blonde stereotype any favors…

  • Stev84

    The comments there are sad no matter the topic. Nothing but a bunch of radicalized zealots. The Christian Post likes to pretend it’s relatively moderate and non-partisan, but that’s far from the truth. They are indistinguishable from fundamentalists.

  • Stev84

    It’s not just about being “offended”. It’s also excludes people and makes them very uncomfortable.

  • NeedingMoreFacts

    But wait, I thought atheists weren’t or shouldn’t seek out groups to legitimize their lack of faith in something?

    But, what if no one was offended?  What if everyone on the team is a Christian (probably because this is southern football – of course, there could be those of other faiths), and no one actually had a problem with this?  Is it then a problem? 

    This is *exactly* why public school is ridiculous.  Not everyone is going to feel *included* and it’s activists (from any direction) that get up in arms about everything, and makes it difficult for teachers, students, parents, and especially administration to move. 

    If this is such an issue, I just argue that all sports and extra curricular activities be removed from school, because school is no place for a student to ever come in contact with anything other than what they’re confortable with.  In fact, no student, teacher, parent, or administrator should be allowed to speak unless it’s strictly dealing with an academic subject.  There should be lunch period because students might come into contact with someone they don’t like … while we’re at it, no peanuts in the school, either!    

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    This has nothing to do with atheists. The people fighting this are secularists, and secularists can be religious people as easily as they can be atheists. FFRF is not an atheist organization.

    There are many secularists in this country, and by definition all of them find this sort of government endorsement of religion offensive, so in fact, it is guaranteed that somebody was offended. It doesn’t matter if it was somebody on the team, somebody in that town, or somebody in that state.

    Constitutional violations should offend all Americans, no matter where they occur… not just in your home town.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Why is anybody defending him, you ask? Well, you have a bunch of people who place higher value on their interpretation of the Bible than they do on the Constitution, so it would be surprising for such people not to defend him.

  • Gus Snarp

    Interesting that ten churches take turns feeding the team, but they’re all Christian. I’d actually be OK with this if the ten groups hosting dinners included Jewish temples, Islamic mosques, Humanist congregations, the local atheist or skeptical group, and any other local faith that wanted a shot. Of course, then you’ve got to decide which groups to accept if there are more than ten (I suggest a lottery, or a rotating system each year), and it would probably be easier and less controversial to end the practice altogether (imagine the outrage when they meet for falafel at the local Mosque). Meanwhile, the prayer absolutely has to go, there’s no getting around that.

  • Gus Snarp

    A Google Maps search nearby for “Mosque” turns up nothing but Christian churches. There do appear to be several Jewish congregations and something called a Gujarati Samaj, which as best I can tell is a cultural association for people from the Western part of India and not necessarily strictly a Hindu temple or anything. But it seems that there’s at least some diversity available, if they were interested. 

  • onamission5

    But that you see would be state sponsored brainwashing! By ebil liberals, no less! It would violate their freedom of privileged, preferential treatment, all that fairness!

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    The other day a Texas judge was saying that if Obama was re-elected there would be civil war.  Now Fischer is suggesting the Governor use the state guard to flout the supreme court…  Not that I’m getting too worried, but the Rwandan genocide was largely orchestrated by the media (radio in Rwanda).  I’m not losing much sleep over it…but then again I live a few hours from the Canadian border.

  • RobMcCune

    Offense is irrelevant (to the case, not the team), the coach is using his authority as a public employee to promote his religion.

  • TnkAgn

    The whole reference to “outside group” smacks of the code words “outside agitators” used against civil rights activists in the early ’60s.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    As usual, the religious folks are focusing on the wrong point… that the kids will receive a meal.  All of the headlines focus on the evil atheist group that wants to deprive these poor football players of a free meal that just happens to be at a church.  They refuse to focus on the fact that it’s the CHURCH and the accompanying proselytizing that are the problems because they KNOW the courts are against that.

    Obfuscation is the name of their game and they play it well. 

  • TnkAgn

    Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution does indeed prohibit public and student-led prayer at public school football games. The case, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (2000) has been upheld for over a decade:

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    Is the Chattanooga Freethought Association state-sponsored or do you think they’d just see it as such?  I think that is an excellent idea.  Have some secular organizations offer the free meal and see what happens then.

  • TnkAgn

    Let me ask you: Why do you think the plaintiff in Santa Fe School District v. Jane Doe (2000), which banned public prayer at public school football games, had to be referred to as “Jane Doe?”

  • Philo Vaihinger

    The same party that worries most about political Islam is the enthusiastic bedfellow of political Christianity in America.

    KOS’s equation looks more believable all the time.

    Christian right = American Taliban.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I bet the Cheer squad gets a meal too.  You know, the hierarchy of deities.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    You don’t have a right to be included on the football team.  You do have a right to not be excluded from the football team for any reason other than your ability to play football.  Having a group activity (such as a shared meal) in which you can’t participate is exclusion.  I think this Church meal isn’t so much exclusionary of atheists as it of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Your characterization of the attorneys comments during the interview are wrong.  His main point was there would be no problem as long as these dinners are not mandatory. And he is correct on that point.  These appear to be voluntary dinners off school premises that nobody is required to attend. If that is the case, it is a constitutional exercise of religion.  Even if the coach participates it does not become unconstitutional.

    The FFRF letter incorrectly states the law in numerous respects.  For example, the FFRF letter states that the 3rd circuit’s use of the coercion test is law that should apply to this school.  It is not the test adopted by the Supreme Court and does not apply to this school.  The Supreme Court test is outlined in Lemon  and that test is the one to use.   

    I am glad the Liberty Counsel has offered a defense and I am sure the ADF would be willing to do so as well.

    The argument that is if this was a Muslim mosque offering a dinner the Christians would be up in arms is such a tired and worthless argument I am surprised you are still making it.  The reaction that you imagine, even if it did occur is absolutely irrelevant to the constitutionality of these meetings. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    If you legal analysis is correct, then I think it’s unfortunate that the majority can’t be more considerate of the minority.  And maybe there are only Christians on the team.  But if there was a non-Christian, it would have to be pretty uncomfortable, and for no good reason.  Why can’t they go to Chik-fil-a for dinner?  Is there no way to accommodate both the Christian majority and the non-Christian minority so everyone on the team feels like they’re on the same team?

    As for the Mosque argument, it’s not intended to address the legality of the situation.  It’s intended to point out the ‘Privilege’ at work.  We’re all so used to things being the Christian way, that any change to that is considered an attack on Christianity.

  • onamission5

    No, the CFA isn’t state sponsored any more than a church, but a public school is. I am merely anticipating the reaction from those folks who are just peachy with state-church entanglements, so long as it’s *their* church, but the second any obviously non-their-church entanglements occur, they start frothing about how the Constitution gives them the right to impose their beliefs, but no one else gets to share the stage.

    I too think it’s a good idea to have secular groups offer sponsorships, particularly in those areas where specific religious privileges in public schools are a problem. I just don’t hold much hope that in such areas, there’s a whole lot of public support for reasonable compromise.

  • Rwlawoffice

    I don’t think that anyone should be made to feel uncomfortable, but I think it is a mistake to assume that in the event there are some non Christians on the team that accommodations have not been made.  Maybe they have or maybe they haven’t.  But in an effort to not make a few or even one person feel uncomfortable, why is the answer from atheists always stopping the religious from being able to practice their faith.  Why can’t atheists give the same respect they seem to demand from others? If my child was on the team and there was an atheist who didn’t want to attend these meetings I would instruct him to treat that team mate with respect and inform him that this is his right not to attend.  That person should not be made to feel less of a team mate in any respect.  Apparently this unknown person complaining thinks that the only accommodation that should be made is to stop the meetings all together which is a total lack of respect for those on the team who want them to continue.

    As for the masque argument I understand your reasoning but if this is the reason why it is being made it is not persuasive. I would point out to any Christian that would object to this that freedom of religion is just that, freedom of religion.  It doesn’t matter which one that is. I would welcome a masque offering a meal.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    That Mosque would have to be built first

    (this one was, but it took a two year legal battle.  And it wasn’t atheists opposing it)

  • Tainda

    You must not have been around many children in your life.  You can instruct a child all you want to respect other people for their differences but not all of them are going to listen.  Also, some parents teach their children that anyone with beliefs other than their own are horrible people.

    The only way to make sure everyone is treated equally is to take religion out of schools and school functions.  Even if it’s voluntary and not on school property if the coach asks the team to go to church or wherever, it’s still a school function.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, who listens

    jeebus only talked about caring for the football players. those debaters just cause trouble and we all know art is dirty. /sarcasm

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, who listens

    i wonder if the coach would let mormons feed and preach to the team…

  • Marco

    I have an even better one, have the players rotate between their church, a mosque, a jewish temple and the freethought Association. I’d love to see the reaction to going to a mosque.

  • Rwlawoffice

     I disagree with the fight to keep this mosque from being built.  They should have been allowed to build it without regard to their faith.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I don’t doubt it.  I do doubt that you honestly evaluate your peers.  We’re both biased, you’re just more biased than me.

    (yes, that last is a joke)

  • Rwlawoffice

    You maybe correct.  Unfortunately, sometimes the outspoken actions of a few is demed to be the views of all. 

  • Edmond

    “This is *exactly* why public school is ridiculous”

    Correction:  This is *exactly* why RELIGION IN public school is ridiculous.

    Not everyone in public school is AUTOMATICALLY going to feel included, but schools like this will (and should) do what they can to ameliorate that.  It certainly doesn’t make any sense for the school to sanction and engage in activities that will be GUARANTEED to exclude some students.

    A public school is not a church.  Period.  That’s the issue here.  Public school teachers are not clergy.  Students are not congregants.  There isn’t ANY REASON to go mixing religion into public education.  Kids can pursue their religious needs, with their families, AFTER school.  They aren’t being bused in and collected into classrooms for the purpose of having school administration deliver prayers and gospel messages.

    It doesn’t MATTER if they’re all Christians or not (a naive assumption to begin with).  If they ARE all Christians, and this behavior is allowed to continue, then it will create a climate of exclusion for anyone who is NOT Christian.  It will send a clear message of discouragement for any non-Christian student who might be interested in joining the team.  This could force a student, a child, into the position of having to publicly buck the trend in order to join, inviting MORE exclusion and ridicule.

    They’re doing so much here that simply isn’t appropriate.  If it were ONLY a case of churches providing dinners, I wouldn’t have any problem with that.  But the praying and proselytizing must stop, the pressuring to attend a Christian football camp must stop, the scriptural verses on school equipment and team uniforms must stop.  This is not the local Christian football team.

  • Findog53

    Then instead of whining, why don’t you all tell the coach that if you want a shot instead of getting on that “wahmbulance” you all do. You people are pathetic. Wah, Wah, Wah!!

  • JasonM

    Can you even buy lickable stamps anymore?  I thought they were phased out more than a decade ago.

  • Findog53

    What part of voluntarily don’y you understand?

  • Findog53

    Freedom From Religion Foundation, hmmmm Represents all NON-THEIST factions.

  • Findog53

    …religion in public schools. Muslims in public schools in R.I. anyway are allowed as many times as neccessary to go to a room at the taxpayers expense(during the school day) to face that direction they have to and pray. Is this not an endorsement of religion? This is their freedom of religion and that is fantastic. Then why can’t Christians keep a banner up in a room that’s visited aproximately 5 times a year. Why has no non-theist faction ever filed suit about it. Theists haven’t because, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXCERCISE THEREOF. What part of the six words after the colon don’t you non-theists understand? 

  • Brian Scott

    Another recent example was the case of Ginger Strivelli. Her son’s school allowed outsiders to hand Bibles to the students there. Herself being a pagan, she disagreed, but the school said anyone not affiliated with the school were free to make their religious material available. Strivelli, calling them on this, sought to make pagan materials available at the school and was rejected. This ultimately culminated into a board meeting at the school to decide a new policy on distribution of religious material. While it seemed to start off well, Strivelli was also met with obnoxious behaviour, including participants trying to read the Bible out loud to drown her out when she was on the podium speaking and declaring that her ears should be burning at the sound of holy scripture. She also received a death threat.

  • Findog53

    So just like Jessica Ahlquist, recruit somebody on the team and tell them you will raise money for their college education if they join the cause, seeing nobody on the team objects and seeing they don’t have legal standing to bring it forward.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Like believing in the divinity of Jesus is totally voluntary?  (but of course you’ll go to HELL if you don’t…)

    Seriously, courts treat students differently from adults, and elementary students differently from high school students.  The fact that something is strictly speaking voluntary doesn’t mean coercion isn’t involved.  Now, may Robert is right and coercion is irrelevant in this legal test.  That wouldn’t change the range of realities of ‘voluntary’.

  • Edmond

    I understand all of it.  The part you seem to be catching on is the “free exercise” part.  The STUDENTS can freely pray.  But the FACULTY can’t LEAD THEM.

    This issue is about what the school ADMINISTRATION is doing.  These students have NOT been put into the coach’s ward for the purpose of being educated or converted into his religion’s doctrines.  The “free exercise” of religion does NOT involve the coach leading the students through the rituals and worship practices of HIS religion of choice, not even if it’s also THEIR religion of choice.

    If they want to form an extra-curricular Christian club, with the same man as their sponsor, I’m sure there’s constitutional protections for that.  Many schools have such clubs.  But when he’s acting in the capacity of football coach, as a representative of the school, it is inappropriate for him to act as if he is the spiritual guide for these students, ESPECIALLY if it’s as aggressively as reported here.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I call BS on your Muslim example, because in other school districts Muslims have asked for that kind of accommodation and been refused.  The free exercise of religion doesn’t trump other students’ rights to get through the material.  That is, you can’t disrupt the class.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I have personal contact with two FFRF members who are theists. While the vast majority of its members are atheists, FFRF is not primarily about atheism, but rather about fighting for the Constitutional separation of state and church. Its main mission is secularism… which is why it has at least a few theistic members. Its philosophy is closely aligned with freethought, which is also not intrinsically limited to atheists.

  • ruth

    I note that the definition of whining for many seems to be anyone voicing a disagreement with their position.  If you do not agree with the majority, well, then, you are a whiner.   Your “wah, wah, wah” is pathetic  rather than persuasive.  

  • ruth

    Most kids won’t object, even if it makes them uncomfortable.  I kept my mouth shut when I was a kid in school, I wanted to belong.  And that precisely is the problem.  

    Ahlquist got a scholarship after she did what she did, not before.  Don’t lie.  

  • Dinnerplan

    As person who cooks for a local football team every Friday, in a church,  I have something to add.  First of all, we do not preach to the team at all.  We do pray for their safety and the food.  That’s all.  Plus we feed them a very good meal every week for 10 weeks.  Why?  Because we want to show them we care about them.  We want them to feel comfortable with being in our building.  We want to show them God’s love in a practical way.  Do these football team members go to our church?  Only one young man attends our church this year.  No coaches attend our church.  We are a part of the local community and want to participate in the community.  
    Monday morning we will feed 425 teachers, board members, janitors, cooks, bus drivers and who ever else breakfast in our church.  Is that wrong?  
    This morning we had kindergarten students learning about safety.  Is that wrong?    We allow people to vote there also.  Is that wrong?  

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

    Heh, I just wanted to see their side of the story, honestly.  I prefer not to antagonize people.  I wish people would extend the same courtesy.  *shrugs*

  • Margaret Whitestone

     Students praying of their own accord in an empty room?  That’s not establishment of religion. Students are even free to pray independently at their desks, in the library, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or anywhere else they choose.   They can read their Bibles, Korans, Books of Mormon and other “holy books” during down time (such as lunch period, recess, study hall).  So long as they’re not disrupting the class nobody has a right to stop them.

    Putting up a prayer banner, teachers or other school officials leading students in prayer, inviting religious groups in to proselytize in any way, etc, those are all instances of establishing religion.  The school simply cannot in any way endorse or promote any religion.   

  • 3lemenope

    Which RI schools? As  native Rhode Islander who attended RI public school and currently lives there, I am skeptical.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Because we want to show them we care about them. ”

    I’m going to assume you care about all the kids in that school, and if any other student needed a weekly meal, they’d be welcome.

    “Do these football team members go to our church?”

    Are any of them non-Christian?  I ask because I want you to inspect you own assumptions about them.  There’s a good chance they are all Christian, but I for one would be more impressed by the love you show for the Muslim or atheist football player than for the Christian football players who attend other Churches.  And not because you want to ‘save’ them, but because you genuinely care about them as human beings. 

    “Monday morning we will feed 425 teachers, board members, janitors, cooks, bus drivers and who ever else breakfast in our church.”

    Fantastic.  It sounds like those people really are not coerced to attend, and I hope the rest of the community would not look upon them differently if they did or did not.

    “This morning we had kindergarten students learning about safety.”

    Ah, that might be a problem.  I have a son in kindergarten, and I’d really want to know exactly what was going on if he were taken to a church as part of his school activity.  I don’t see any reason why kids can’t learn about safety in a neutral environment.  I wouldn’t dream of telling your kid what Lot proposed as an alternative to the mob at his door, but you can’t be telling my kid that Jesus was tortured because my son was born a sinner.

    “We allow people to vote there also.”  Adults are considered to be capable of understanding that it’s a just a building used for that purpose on that day, and that it has no government significance.  Maybe some day we’ll vote in Mosques too.  Perhaps in MI they already do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

    That last sentence or two perfectly expresses my what I was thinking the whole way through.
    If it were anything other than Christianity, there’d be uproar! (And there *should* be uproar. Not because it’s “the wrong religion”, though, but because it’s religion.) That’s the very definition of privelege. Why oh why don’t they see this?

  • Camorris

    “Is it wrong?”
    That perhaps depends on the intention. I have no doubts that you are participating in this with the best of intentions and commend you for the service.Nevertheless, I view the purpose of the free meal as sophisticated proselytizing for the denomination and local church. Just like any business, places of worship need money to stay in operation which means selling the product to enough members to maintain the base. Churches are always in need of new contributing members not only to grow but to ward off shrinkage due to deaths, moving away, disenchantment, etc.The Mormons have their unpaid sales force well tuned for seeking out new converts. Other faiths have to rely on other means. I see these meals as merely another recruitment drive for future members. Are the football team members, the teachers, the board members, janitors, cooks, bus drivers so poor that they need a free meal? Is the same done for single parent families, the homeless, the poor, the underprivileged?

  • Grooney315

    I wonder how much playing time someone that didn’t attend a dinner would get. From the description of the coach my guess is “little to none”

  • Findog53

    I’m a Rhode Islander Ruth,  Jessica ahlquist was recruited. she was not the first student to get asked for their involvement. That’s how the other students were enticed to give it a go and my neice was one of them. My neice just said big deal its there it doesn’t bother me, but she was promised money for her education if she participated.

  • Findog53

    Like I said rich in R.I it is allowed. I’m sure there have been refusals elswhere, but my neice says it’s allowed at her school.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Have Christian students attempted the same level of prayer?  That would be my reaction.  Heck, even being an atheist, I’d do something that would make as much time and as much noise.  Whatever accommodation they give, I’m sure we’d both agree it should be equal, and I’d make a stink if it wasn’t.

  • Findog53

    The school district is
    approximately three million $’s in the hole is why. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    The school district should do a better job of picking its fights.

  • openminded1

    what a great thing these Churches are doing! Get off your Butt and feed some hungry kids Lol

  • Derick

    As an atheist who plays on a very Christian football team, I can safely say that people who want to outlaw this are a bunch of fucking idiots who have never been on either a football team or in a christian area.