Local Columnist in Georgia Blasts Proselytizing Public High School Football Coach

Mark Mariakis is the Ridgeland High School (Georgia) football coach who thinks its his job to convert his players to Christianity.

Mark Mariakis

It’s not only atheist groups like FFRF trying to put a stop to his illegal actions — leading his team in Christian prayer, putting Bible verses on team shirts, urging players to attend Christian summer camps, etc.

Even a columnist for the local newspaper (the Walker County Messenger) agrees that what Mariakis is doing is unconstitutional and needs to stop.

Christi McEntyre says up front that she’s an atheist, but that’s not the main reason she opposes the proselytizing:

just because something is tradition, just because it’s always been done and no one has complained, doesn’t mean it should continue.

The same with the alleged prayers and sermons that Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis is either leading or allowing to happen in front of his team, on school ground, and while operating as a school official.

You want to have a prayer before a game? Fine. You feel the need to invoke a higher power before making official government decisions? Knock yourself out. Just not after the gavel has banged. Not on government time, and not on government property. Not led by a government official.

Because, technically speaking, that’s what public school teachers and coaches are: government officials. The moment that bell rings, the moment that a teacher steps through the threshold of the school, the moment that a coach calls his team together — at that moment, that individual ceases to be. There is no Mark Mariakis. There is just a coach. An adult, entrusted with a high school football team. No matter what his or her personal beliefs, a teacher must mentally and emotionally shed the robe of the personal and put on the robe of the public whenever acting in his or her position.

And to anyone who argues that the students are all Christians, so what’s the big deal? Christi responds to them, too:

there will always be the differing opinion. You may not see it. You may not hear it spoken. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

There will always be the student who feels pressured to conform religiously. The one who doesn’t take comfort in the pre-game prayers, but is made uncomfortable by them. The one who hears teachers speak of heaven and hell on school time and feels his or her stomach drop in confusion and shame. The one who may be a bit different, bullied, strange. The one who is afraid to speak up, afraid of the comments from teachers, coaches, peers. The one who goes through the motions every day, every practice, every Sunday, who has no one to turn to, because between preaching teachers and preaching parents and preaching preachers, there is no one left who might understand. Who might listen and not judge.

It’s really a fantastic piece. Read the whole thing.

While the piece is online, it won’t appear in print until Wednesday. I’m sure there will be tons of backlash when that happens, so if you agree with Christi, leave her some supportive comments before the onslaught of “Christian love”!

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.

  • http://twitter.com/ftsor ftsor

    Posts like this make me wish that I had spoken up in high school, or that I had even known that it was possible to speak up. We prayed in school – regular old public school – all the time. Before plays, before sports, before choir concerts…it was ridiculous. It was a school in a small town, but that’s no excuse. I hope this guy faces some solid consequences for his proselytizing.

  • Kalex

    My band director in my public  high school would lead the marching band in reciting the lord’s prayer before every performance. I was highly irritated by it but never said anything…

    It so happens, he was forced out of his job because of inappropriate behavior towards some female students (go figure). Very Christ-like of him!

  • Guest

    Even a columnist for the local newspaper agrees!  Wow!  That must be something that has never happened before.  And that she’s an atheist can’t have anything to do with it because she said so!  I have to say, I’ve not laughed this hard at a post in weeks.   I’m still barely able to type I’m laughing so hard. 

  • Bender

     When you’re finished you can explain us how she’s wrong.

  • asonge

    Yeah, people who are affected by transgressions of the law or who belong to a class of people harmed by those transgressions have some kind of interest in protecting their rights. That makes them untrustworthy and biased.

  • Fritzy

    Even when I was a hardcore Christian and believed with all my heart that the world would be a better place if only everyone converted to Christianity, never once did I think it was OK for school-led prayer to occur in public classrooms, because, damnit, that’s not they way to go about winning hearts and minds and no one wants faith forced upon them.  And this was as a high schooler.  How any adult, entrusted with the education of young people can think this kind of illegal indoctrination is OK is beyond me.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    …She never said her atheism had nothing to do with it, it’s just not the main point. As in, she’s not saying they can’t pray in school because she personally doesn’t believe in God. She’s saying they can’t pray in school because schools are part of the government and it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse one religion over others. This is not a theocracy.It’s pretty sad that you can’t put forth a genuine argument. You just point out how ridiculous you find something and how you can’t stop laughing, but you don’t bother to address any of the issues at hand.

  • MisterMaury

    Reminds me of this story…  A black football coach quoting Leviticus.  (Ironicly he seems to have missed the parts about slavery and not touching pigskin.)


  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    And we already have a call for a constitutional amendment to make us an official theocracy.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Yes, because only non-Christians would care, and they don’t count, because they’re biased.

    Oh, wait, http://www.wnd.com/2005/10/32839/

  • Rwlawoffice

    She is overstaing the law. Unless the dinners, camps and other off campus activities are mandatory, they are not unconstitutional.  If on campus the coach is there when the prayers are going on but does not participate, then they would be okay.  If however, he leads the prayers on campus that could be a problem.  using the bible in a pregame speech to motivate the players, may or may not pass muster. Scriptures on the jerseys, probably should be removed.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Those who profess an excess of (insert your doom here) are usually guilty of the exact extreme opposite. That’s why anti-gay campaigners inevitably get photographed with male prostitutes.

  • Coyotenose

     And yet you can’t actually argue with any of her points. Such a sad, angry, impotent crybaby you are.

    Oh, fake Internet laughter? It’s done exclusively by people who know they’ve lost. Enjoy, Loser.

  • Coyotenose

    The point about how pressure compels children to participate in all the religious activities is in the article, and clearly repeated in this post.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Which is, of course, a good reason not to conflate atheism and secularism too much- plenty of theists are secularists, as well, and it hurts secularism not to always remember that.

  • Lucilius

    Thanks for demonstrating for us exactly why such issues should not be left to the discretion of god-obsessed pea-brains.

  • Christi McEntyre

    Wow, thank you guys. The outpouring of support that I’ve received all day, even from some unexpected places here in town, has been so wonderfully uplifting. I’ll be sure and keep y’all updated as the negative starts rolling in; nothing this good lasts forever!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    That had to be a scary column to write.  Thanks for doing so.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Thank you!

    Don’t forget, as you suffer the slings and arrows especially since this is about FOOTBALL too, to remind the good folk in Walker County that if it won’t pass the “replace God with Allah and see how long it would last” test, it doesn’t belong in a public school anymore than prayers to Kolob.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

     My jaw dropped, and then I re-read the article you linked to again. And there I saw between the lines the broken clock that just happened to be stopped on the right time.

    Note that the evangelical manages to load his letter with snarks at the Buddhists about how their doctrine is false and somehow thus offensive? His total inability to pay any level of respect to any other faith than his own?  Note at the end how, not content with worrying about how kids may be exposed to Buddhist or Hindu prayers he also throws in the totally over the top stupid worry of Wiccan and Satanists getting to say prayers on the tannoy system? Like that ever has or ever will happen?

    Typical WND….even when the face tells the right time the damn clock it is stuck to is still broken.

  • Slantrhyme

     Let’s see….from the diction, tone, and snark, I’m guessing you are: white, male, Southern Baptist, GOTP, and a complete dickhead to your Northern relatives. 

  • Anonymous

    But, I think that asking them how they’d like the the government endorsing a religion that is not theirs is a far more powerful and convincing and logical argument than simply appealing to a law. Sure, they may be forced to comply to the law, but if you can convince them the law is logical, you’ll really win the fight, because they’ll continue it.

    But the bogeyman doesn’t have to be Satanism or Wicca. Aren’t the sects rabidly against each other? Tell Lutherans the govt has seen the light, decided that Jesus is the lord and saviour who will lead the country to god, there will be a state religion and all must follow and it’s going to be Baptist. Tell the Baptists it will be Catholicism. Etc. Everyone assumes that if there were a state mandated religion it would be theirs, odds are it wouldn’t be.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    The one thing that lowered my blood pressure again about “The Good News Club” (evangelizing young children in after school in the school programs) is that they are so narrow in their doctrine, that a great many Christians, when they learn about it, are opposed to their kids being taught 
    1 Samuel 15:3 as an example of following orders. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson