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.