If you’re a public school football coach who happens to be a Christian, there’s a very simple rule you have to obey: Don’t mix the two worlds.
Paul Calley, the coach of the Bryant High School football team (in Arkansas), either doesn’t know that rule or he doesn’t care.
We know that because he recently invited the team members to his church for a “kickoff” celebration to the season:
Invitation from Coach Paul Calley: The Bryant Hornet Football Team Worship is this Sunday, Aug 25th at Otter Creek Assembly of God, 10:30 am kickoff. Our guest speaker will be Dr Fitz Hill, President of Arkansas Baptist College. I would like to invite anyone and everyone that would like to join us in worshiping The Lord and kicking off the football season the right way! This tradition has been a blessing to me, our staff, our players and all of our families and we would love for you to come and share in this exceptional experience with us!
The fact that the word “tradition” is used suggests that they’ve been doing this for years, too.
Imagine being a non-Christian on that team. You’d have to go to church or you might feel like your spot on the roster was in jeopardy. As Katherine Stewart wrote of such students in The Good News Club,
… they know that the locker room is no place for dissent, and that a refusal to participate [in the religious ritual] could easily be construed as a sign of a lack of commitment to the team. They have learned that they have to pray to play.
Bryant Public Schools has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By one of its employees scheduling a religious service for a school athletic team, the district has breached that duty.
Coach Calley’s actions are a clear violation of the Constitution. He may not organize a religious worship service for his team, nor may he invite players to attend such a service. Bryant Public Schools must take immediate corrective action, including instructing Coach Calley to cancel this team event. The District must educate Coach Calley and all District employees that they may not lead, encourage, or participate in student religious activity.
We’ll see how the school responds to this… but I don’t see a way out. The evidence is still on Facebook as I write this.
If this were a Muslim or atheist coach, he would’ve lost his coaching gig (at the very least) a long time ago. He and the students are free to attend the Christian churches of their choice on their own time. But there’s no excuse for using a public school’s name and resources to promote Christian worship.