Article Notes How Dozens of Public High School Football Coaches in the South Think Proselytizing is Part of Practice

In a frightening-yet-not-at-all-shocking article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press today, Stephen Hargis reports that the number of football coaches who think preaching Christianity is part of the game plan isn’t just a single individual or even a handful of people. The problem is much worse than that:

Responding to a Times Free Press survey, 32 coaches who work in public schools in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama professed to be Christian; all said they endorse some form of team prayer. Those coaches said they consider the increased activity by the Wisconsin-based foundation a violation of their religious rights and of their ability to mold the boys on their team into moral young men.

“We as coaches fail if we only teach football, so we try to set an example of how a Christian man handles any situation,” Ridgeland High coach Mark Mariakis said. “I want the kids to remember that example more than anything they learn on the football field.”

If that name is familiar, it’s because Mariakis is the coach from Georgia who led his team in prayer before and after games:

Mariakis notes that the only thing that has changed since last year is that he has stopped leading the team prayers. Now, he lets the students do it. (Are they the captains? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that’s probably the case since he calls them the team “leaders,” which makes the prayers all the more coercive to the rest of the team.)

Can you believe that, though? 32 coaches are admitting to illegally preaching Christianity to their players (and who knows how many didn’t admit it). These coaches are setting their districts up for losing lawsuits because they’re blissfully unaware of what the law allows — or they’re completely aware of what the law says and they just don’t give a damn.

While the schools stopped PA prayers, they all continue to allow students and fans to meet on the field before games to pray. Two weeks ago, when Marion County’s Warriors visited cross-county foe Whitwell, the two fan bases set aside their rivalry to form a prayer circle that stretched around the entire field before the game.

Whitwell coach Billy Barnhart said he still conducts prayer before and after each day’s practice as well as prayer in the locker room before taking the field each Friday.

“I’m not a coach who’s a Christian, I’m a Christian coach,” said Barnhart. “To me, my faith is a big part of who I am, so it’s going to be a big part of what I do as a coach.

This is what happens when you’re in the majority. You’re completely oblivious to what everyone else is going through.

I’m a public school coach, too, and I’m an atheist. But if I were in these coaches’ shoes and telling my students not to pray before a game because God isn’t running our offense, there would be an uproar. Thankfully, I know where my personal beliefs have to take a backseat to doing what’s right for all of my students and not just the ones who agree with me. That means not pushing my views on my students, who would really have no choice but to nod their heads or risk losing playing time or getting kicked off the team. Even if I believed every student on the team thought the way I thought, it would be wrong to push my beliefs in a public school setting. If these coaches think their religious beliefs should take precedence over the law, they should go teach at a private Christian school.

The end of the article features a Muslim student on one of the teams:

Of the 82 players on Central High School’s roster, junior kicker Tareq Faleh is the only Muslim, surrounded by predominantly Christian teammates. But the debate over religious freedom and whether prayer should be a part of Friday night football hasn’t affected Faleh’s enjoyment of the game. When the team gathers for prayer, typically led by a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Faleh joins the rest of the Purple Pounders in bowing his head.

“I’ve never been uncomfortable with any of it or felt left out, even when they pray something in Jesus’ name,” Faleh said. “It’s always positive stuff and it’s interesting to hear how other people believe. Everyone should be allowed to pray however they want and express what they believe. That’s what makes this country so great.

“To me, I’m a part of this team, so I join my teammates because that’s what they want to do and I bow out of respect for them. I always want to be there for my team because I know they would be there for me. That’s what being part of a team is about.”

Students, of course, are allowed to pray however they’d like. The problem occurs when there’s pressure to pray because everyone else is doing it, including the people in leadership positions on the team.

You’d be seeing a very different end of the article if Faleh didn’t capitulate to the Christian prayers but actively opposed them. I mean, what else would anyone expect him to do? Trash his teammates? Stand up for Islam in the face of overwhelming Christian pressure? No. He knows better than that.

As Katherine Stewart once wrote of non-Christian athletes in The Good News Club:

… they know that the locker room is no place for dissent, and that a refusal to participate could easily be construed as a lack of commitment to the team. They have learned that they have to pray to play.

That is not a position we should put any of these students in. They may say they’re Christian. They may act like they’re Christian. They may say they don’t mind the Christian prayers. But they really have no other choice but to say that.

A good coach would know that.

By the way, there’s a separate article featuring quotations from the 32 proselytizing coaches about their takes on prayer. So much fail throughout:

“When we lock hands after a game or practice, prayer starts. Are we doing anything negative to affect a kid? Those people [Freedom From Religion Foundation] are in the minority of our society. It’s time for the majority to step up and tell them they’re infringing on us. What they don’t understand [is] it’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. One of the reasons society is so jacked up, you’re attacking people who are trying to do something good and wholesome for kids.”

– East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood

“As coaches we pray in my office before every game and the players have a student-led prayer in the locker room. We’re in the Bible Belt and we’re still going to pray. If somebody wants to stop what we’re doing, they’ll have to get into our locker room, and I don’t let people I don’t know into our locker room.”

– Howard coach Michael Calloway

“We pray the Lord’s prayer before games. I pray with them every chance I get, and I’ll keep doing it until they tell me I can’t. A lot of our players don’t attend church, so it’s very important for me to live it. We should be urgent about leading these young men to Christ. If they tell me I can’t do it and work here, I’ll go find somewhere else to work.”

– Central coach John Allen

“This is a very faith-based community. I always said I’d quit coaching when they didn’t let me pray with the kids.”

– Cleveland coach Ron Crawford

“We do a lot of praying, and we’ve never had an issue over it. We do it on practice days and before and after games.”

– Ider coach Brent Tinker

FFRF is going to have their hands full with complaint letters and possible lawsuits based on the statements in these articles…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Tainda

    I think if I hear “it’s freedom of religion and not freedom from religion” one more damned time my head is going to explode.

    I also love the coach that wouldn’t coach there if he couldn’t pray. Shows what he is REALLY there for.

    • Bitter Lizard

      It is nothing short of a threat, a pronouncement that they think we are supposed to be at their mercy. Anyone who says this is on the same level as the Taliban, frankly, and deserves to be treated no differently.

      • Art_Vandelay

        When I first read this, it struck me as unnecessary hyperbole. Then I thought about it for like 4 more seconds and I was all like…”Yeah, kinda.”

        • Bitter Lizard

          Yeah, comparing anything to the Taliban sounds like hyperbole for the same reason comparing anything to Nazis does. But the whole thing that makes the Taliban the Taliban is the idea that other people shouldn’t have freedom from religion. It could be their slogan.

          • Katherine Harms

            Christians do not put guns to peoples’ heads. We live our faith and speak our faith. We have the right to do it, according to the Constitution. We have the obligation to do it, according to the way of life our Savior teaches. These coaches are doing what our faith calls for. They don’t force the boys to pray. They lead, the boys follow of their own free will.

            • Tainda

              It. Does. Not. Belong. In. A. Public. School!!!

              • Katherine Harms

                I beg your pardon, but a public school is, dare I say it, public. Public means for everyone. People who pray. People who don’t. The First Amendment says that people are free to exercise their faith, and people who want to pray before a football game, be they on the team or in the stands, may do so. People who don’t want to pray may respectfully not pray. It is a free country.

                • Paul Reed

                  Let’s get some perspective.
                  These are football games. What on earth does religion have to do with football, such that it needs to have its own little affirmation ritual as part of the pre-game?
                  People are free to pray, but it need not be part of the officially sanctioned activities.

                  Isn’t prayer meant to be a private thing? (Matt 6:5,6)

                • Roger Peritone

                  Yes, but following the bible’s commands is only done when it allows them to force their views on others or when its otherwise convenient for them, I guess.

                  If repugs and the christian right were to actually follow their lords’ teachings about charity for instance, things would be a lot different in the gov’t when it comes to things like healthcare or the social safety net.

                • Katherine Harms

                  Christ did not teach that the government should be the agent of charity. He taught that you and I should be the ones giving to the poor.

                • Spuddie

                  Jesus had no conception of democracy. Government of the people. In a democracy the government are the people. It serves the individual and their interests. This includes charity. You are just trying to dodge an obligation to fellow people and extol mammon. A spit in the eye of those concerned with Jesus’ teachings concerning charity.

                • Katherine Harms

                  I am trying to discern your definition of religion. I think the best way to respond is to say that Christians live in relationship with Christ and consider it the highest form of discipleship to be Christlike. Matthew 6:5,6 teaches that behaviors must grow out of that relationship, rather than be put on fraudulently to earn praise of other people. Since it is clear that some people don’t thing public prayer is praiseworthy, the coach and his team cannot be accused of praying in order to earn popularity. In fact, the coaches quoted are living their faith and obedience to Christ, who told us to share our faith with everyone. The coaches are sharing Christ with you and the other people who observe this act, because they love the boys on the team and the audience gathered to observe the game. They believe, as I believe, that everyone needs Christ — you and all the other people in this comment thread, for example. For them to express their faith is not a less protected right than for someone to post a sign advertising Cheerio’s in a stadium.
                  In the USA, people have a protected right to exercise their faith, but the coaches don’t pray before games in order to assert that right; they pray before games because they love Christ and the people around them.

                • Spuddie

                  It’s funny how sharing the faith involves insulting and attacking the beliefs of others. Anything to justify your sectarian bigotry and violation of the laws of the land I guess.

                • Paul Reed

                  Ok, hypothetical scenario time:

                  You send your kid to a new school, they get a place on the football team, everything’s peachy.

                  Then you find out that the coach is a Muslim and the kids have a good old pray to Allah before every game.
                  Oh, it’s ok, though, because he doesn’t do the praying himself. He has one of the muslim kids do it, so that it’s “student lead”. In fact, only 3 kids aren’t muslim, but it’s ok because they can join in too. Or just stand there awkwardly while everyone else prays.

                  What? You have a problem with that?
                  But the coach is living his faith and obedience to Muhammed, who told him to share his faith with everyone. The coach is sharing Islam with you and the other people who observe this act, because they love the boys on the team and the audience gathered to observe the game. For them to express their faith is not a less protected right than for someone to post a sign advertising Cheerio’s in a stadium, apparently.
                  In the USA, people have a protected right to exercise their faith, but the coach doesn’t pray before games in order to assert that right; he prays before games because he loves Allah and the people around him.

                  Or maybe religion shouldn’t be part of a football team.

                  Kind of uncomfortable when the shoe’s on the other foot, huh?

                • Roger Peritone

                  Isn’t there a verse in matthew that says that prayers are supposed to be private? Even without that, expressing one’s OWN “love” for christ and making/”enouraging” others to do it is another.

                • Katherine Harms

                  The sharing of faith with others is a core principle of Christian teaching. As for the Matthew text, that is about the difference between showing off religiously to get points from the people around you and living an internalized faith. When people completely internalize the teaching of Christ, they cannot keep the blessing of that relationship a secret. They look at people around them and see how much those people need Christ. If you were hungry, and I refused to share food with you, you would think I was wicked, and you would be right. Sharing Christ is the same thing — sharing the best thing in the world with people who need it. God loves you. He wants you to be fulfilled and at peace. Christ makes that happen. The football coach knows it, and I do, too. Why would we keep Christ a secret?

                • Anat

                  Do adherents of Christianity have to share their faith every single moment of the day? The coaches can share their respective faiths as private persons, when they are off the clock. When they are coaching they should be focusing on sports, and keeping their religion to themselves.

                  The sports team is not a religious club, members of all religions or no religion should feel equally welcome. When one religion gets preferential treatment members of other religions start wondering if they are wanted. And that is bad for team spirit, in addition to being bad for the children of other faiths.

                • Roger Peritone

                  Ok, this reply was better than mine.

                • Anat

                  If we stay with the food analogy, if I were hungry and you gave me food I was allergic to, you would not have done me a favor. You would have harmed me worse than had you not given me food at all. It is not for you to decide what food is good for me, nor is it for you to decide which beliefs are good for me. And now that all beliefs are accessible on the internet there is no justification to proselytizing – we have all seen many versions of all major religions. We can decide for ourselves which is good for us, if any.

                • Paul Reed

                  Even worse, what if you’re not hungry at all, but people like Ms Harms decide that you’re actually starving and try make sure you’re “getting enough to eat” by throwing food at your face.

                  That’d get annoying fast…

                • Anat

                  Or if you are hungry out of choice, because you are on a diet (which you need to improve your health).

                • Roger Peritone

                  As for the Matthew text, that is about the difference between showing off religiously to get points from the people around you and living an internalized faith.
                  Example: Those coaches, maybe??

                  When people completely internalize the teaching of Christ, they cannot keep the blessing of that relationship a secret.

                  Yeah, they force it on others in a captive audience type of situation with no regard for the rules of Mathew itself or the law of the land.

                  If you were hungry, and I refused to share food with you, you would think I was wicked, and you would be right. Sharing Christ is the same thing
                  No, it isn’t. How many of those players expressly asked for the coaches to be having prayers?

                • Roger Peritone

                  Yes, it’s a PUBLIC SCHOOL. Not a christian school. School officials including coaches are supposed to be neutral.

                  Yes, it IS a free country, NOT a christian country. Being free to exercise their faith does not mean that they are allowed to push it onto others.

                  People who don’t toe the official xian line are marked and harassed by those who do in several cases. Read about how Jessica Ahlquist was treated when she revealed that her school had a religious banner.

            • Paul Reed

              Well, firstly, coaches are authority figures.
              And secondly, they’re government representatives via their role at the school.

              Government is prohibited from endorsing religion. It doesn’t matter who is doing the actual prayer, the school (in the form of the coach) should not be endorsing it.
              Standing by and letting it happen is merely passive endorsement.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        C’mon now. “I won’t participate” is very different in degree from “I will kill anyone who participates.”

        • Buckley

          Yes, but that can always be the next step for the fanatical. If god said to do it…I’m afraid a few would take him up on it.

        • Stev84

          Don’t think that they wouldn’t love to at least beat up everyone who doesn’t participate in their prayers.

          • Katherine Harms

            Why do you think that people who pray want to beat up anybody?

            • Tainda

              Because it has happened. Go put your face back in your bible and continue living in your fantasy world. When you have the intelligence to look up from your trash rag and open your eyes to what is really going on out there, then you can come back and speak.

          • didaskalos

            Narrow stereotyping is not unique to fundamentalists, as shown in your comment.

          • Katherine Harms

            Why do you believe that those who pray want to beat up anyone? What have those people said or done to make you believe that they want to do violence to people who choose not to pray with them?

        • Bitter Lizard

          I was talking specifically about the assertions from theists that we are not allowed to have freedom from their own religious beliefs. Are there different degrees to which they can act on this? Of course. But the difference between the Christians who say that and the Taliban is only a difference of degree, and only sometimes.

        • doninkansas

          Only a matter of degree and who knows what they would do if they actually had the power. We hear folks like this saying that gay people are worthy of death, how long until that changes to gay people should be put to death?

          • Spuddie

            Already being done. American evangelicals are major proponents of Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill and Russia is trying their hand at 21st century updates to the age old pogrom.

            • Katherine Harms

              American evangelicals are NOT proponents of killing gays. This is a huge and irresponsible lie that you should be ashamed of. Russia is doing whatever it is doing, because it is Russia and has every right to be Russia. It has nothing to do with the biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sin. Russia simply says that homosexuality is not normal. There is nothing at all to refute that position, and it doesn’t matter what you believe.

              • C.L. Honeycutt

                You may wish to tell that to the large numbers of American evangelicals who have contributed money, moral support, and political pressure to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

                Russia is not “simply” doing that. You are vastly misrepresenting their actions.

                Google is your friend.

              • PNW

                The “Kill the Gays” bill is in Uganda not Russia.
                http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/09/bryan-fischer-scott-lively_n_2440789.html

                And I think you’re saying that there is nothing to refute the position that being attracted to a person of the same sex (gender?) is natural. That is so so so so wrong.

                • Katherine Harms

                  There is nothing to refute. There is no science that says homosexuality is normal. People engaged in research have a long list of things to look for, and they haven’t found any of them. It is not necessary to refute a proposition that has not been proved.
                  It is obvious that homosexual attraction exists, but there is no evidence that it is congenital. The sad truth is that homosexuality is a choice. Like many human behaviors, the moment of the choice may slide past the consciousness of the individual, but nobody is born homosexual.

                • allein

                  If homosexuality is a choice, then so is heterosexuality. When did you choose?

                • Katherine Harms

                  Hererosexuality is ordained genetically. It is natural. It is the created order of things. All other forms of sexual behavior are choices to abandon nature.
                  God is the creator of nature, which means that God ordained heterosexual relationships for the blessing of nature. All other forms of sexual behavior are choices to serve self rather than God.
                  So whether you look at it from the godless view of simply observing nature to see the truth, or look at it from the view of God’s revelation and action in creation, heterosexuality is mandated by nature and any other expression of sexuality is a self-serving perversion.

                • allein

                  Uh-huh. So what of all the animal species that engage in homosexual behavior? Are they making a choice to go against nature? Or is it just something they naturally do sometimes?

                  And if it is a choice (which I do not believe), what makes it “wrong”? People choose to do perfectly legal things all the time that some people may disapprove of, but nobody tries to restrict our rights to do those things. You don’t like it? Don’t do it.

                • Tainda

                  Isn’t it funny how she disappears when she has no (stock) answer to a question?

                • allein

                  I’m shocked she would do such a thing.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  Epigenetics disproves your belief that homosexuality is a choice.

                • Paul Reed

                  Funny how you decry the supposed lack of research and evidence for the position that homosexuality is natural

                  yet loudly proclaim with certainty that homosexuality is a choice, without providing any evidence of your own.

                • Katherine Harms

                  Given the lack of evidence that homosexuality is congenital, there is no need to provide evidence that it is a choice.

                • Paul Reed

                  So (according to you) there’s no evidence either way, therefore you’re right?

                • Katherine Harms

                  The evidence says that heterosexuality is universally natural. It is the way people are created. It’s not about me. The way people are. Maybe you attribute this fact to God or maybe you attribute it to nature. Either way, it is the natural order of things.

                • allein

                  One position being unevidenced does not automatically make the other position correct.

                • Roger Peritone
                • Jaded

                  Funny, because I really can’t remember waking up one morning and deciding ‘you know what, I’m going to be attracted to women from now on’.

                  In fact, I can’t remember a point in my life where I was attracted to men at all. I tried but I really, really prefer boobs.

                  You’d think I’d remember that sort of choice.

                  While homosexuality may or may not be a choice that doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bad thing.

                  People choose to do good things. Choice is not a synonym for ‘evil’.

                  Choosing to be charitable, to be kind, to save lives, to help other people isn’t ‘genetically ordained’ either.

                • Katherine Harms

                  To know that homosexuality is a choice is important, because God loves homosexuals as much as anyone else, but he holds everyone accountable for their choices. Goodness knows, even convicted felons are capable of doing good things, and ordained pastors are capable of doing bad things. We aren’t keeping score; we are talking about one choice — the one to be homosexual. The reason it is a choice is that nobody is born homosexual.
                  If you think you can’t escape it, you should read First Steps Out by Christy McFerren. By the power of Christ she was able to change and get her life back. It’s not me saying that. It is a real person who was homosexual in the past and is not homosexual today. You can reject me, if you like, but you can’t reject her.

                • Jaded

                  It’s kind of funny and kind of sad that you think I need to escape my sexuality. That would be quite hard because it’s sort of like my lungs – very permanent and pretty well stuck in there.
                  ‘Get my life back’ – That cracked me up. I’m not a drug addict, I’m gay. I have a life, a life I very much enjoy. And ‘getting my life back’ would mean going back into the closet, which frankly was not the most fun time in my life.
                  I’m happier and mentally healthier now that I’m out of it.
                  And before you even think the ‘you were unhappy because you were gay’ argument. I was unhappy because of bigots like you. I was unhappy because I couldn’t tell people I was gay without worrying that they might hurt me.
                  I grew up, realised I don’t give a fuck and I have a group of awesome friends who don’t care who I have sex with.
                  Congratulations, you managed to cite an example. I have multiple LGBT friends who would assert just as strongly that they were born LGBT. Admittedly none of them have written books about their experiences but I’m sure that given a few minutes of googling I could find books which support my position.
                  I also find it amusing that you actually used ‘the power of Christ’ unironically in the comment section of a blog with the word ‘atheist’ in the title (also because every time somebody says that I hear ‘by the power of Greyskull’ only with much less impressive results). You might as well have told me to go and sacrifice a goat to Zeus. It’s really, really not going to do anything.
                  You’re arguing that you’re talking about one particular choice, but your argument before was that LGBT people were making a choice which wasn’t ‘genetically ordained’.
                  None of the choices I listed were ‘genetically ordained’ either.
                  And no, homosexuality isn’t congenital. Neither is religion. Both have existed for a very, very long time.
                  Some people are gay, get over it. We’re not going anywhere.

                • Anat

                  Why does it matter why someone is attracted to people in one group or another? Does it matter if person X is attracted to blonds out of choice or not? Some people are attracted only to people of the opposite sex, some only to those of the same sex as themselves, some to both, some to neither. As long as any sexual interaction they have with other people is mutually consensual to all those involved (including all current partners) who cares what combination of genitals are owned by them? Who is harmed by same-sex intercourse?

              • Roger Peritone

                “It has every right to be Russia”, eh? So when the communists were in power and persecuting people like YOU instead of homosexuals, would you have said the same thing?

              • Spuddie

                Go fuck yourself. The American evangelical support of the Uganda bill is well documented. Even at this website.
                http://www.google.co.jp/search?q=uganda+kill+the+gays+bill+family+research+council&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari&gws_rd=cr&ei=wEc-UsXfOIqlkAXq3YCYAQ

                As for Russia, you are a lying bigot. Russia is actively encouraging violence against gays and are turning them into “non people”. Russia has a long history of doing both to Jews, Central Asians, indigenous siberians, Poles, Finns and any other convenient scapegoats.

              • Fred Bailey

                Scott Lively.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Late to the party but that is the new Christian catch phrase.

    • Katherine Harms

      Christians who take Christianity seriously do believe that making disciples is our first obligation as a core principle of our faith.

      • Roger Peritone

        So what? Muslims have their core values too, but does that mean we let them pray on the football field? Are you admitting that your religious beliefs trump your allegiance to your nation?

        • Katherine Harms

          Actually, if the nation ever tries to compel me to act in conflict with my obedience to God, then yes, my faith in God and obedience to him trumps my allegiance to my nation. Government is an agent God uses for the good of people to provide domestic and international safety. It is not a power to replace God or to override him.

          • Spuddie

            So you live in Iran. A place where government run by the “will of God”.

            In the U.S. the government is not answerable to your or anyone’s concept of God. They will let you practice your faith but nobody has to give a flying crap about it either personally or under compulsion of law.

  • Bitter Lizard

    You have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

    Fine. You officially have no freedom from Islam now. See how this works?

    • Katherine Harms

      No, I don’t see what you mean. Can you explain please?

      • Paul Reed

        Freedom from religion means that no-one can interfere with your own choices and decisions about your own religious opinion. It means freedom from religious interference.

        If you take that freedom away, then you end up forced to practice a state religion. You wouldn’t like it if Islam was installed as the state religion. That’s the point Bitter Lizard is making; We have the freedom not only to decide our own religious opinion, but to be free from interference in those religious matters.

        This includes (or should include) the personal freedom to reject all religion, and the freedom not have religion imposed upon us in public life.

        • Katherine Harms

          The First Amendment protects your freedom to reject all religion. It also protects you from having religion “imposed” by the state. It does not require that religion hide behind closed doors. “Free exercise” means the right to live faith publicly.
          To act and speak of faith in public, including actions and words that are intended to persuade others to believe, is not imposing religion on anyone, any more than an ad for a BMW requires everyone to drive a BMW.

          • Spuddie

            you forgot the part where government cannot establish religion. An employee of the government working in such a capacity represents the government. An on the job attempt to proselytize gives the message that the government is doing so. Establishing religion.

            Your free exercise ends when it attacks my own or when you take the trappings of government sanction.

          • Paul Reed

            Yes, everyone has the freedom to drive whatever car they like, but what if your president were to appear in an ad for BMW? Or erect a billboard for them on the White House lawn? Or use government money for the ad?
            There’d be hell to pay. Why? Because the government has to remain neutral and impartial in matters of business and religion.

            This is why there are no BMW ads in public schools.

            • Katherine Harms

              The establishment clause only forbids Congress to establish a national religion. It doesn’t even forbid a state to have a state religion, and some have done that in the past. It certainly does not forbid a high school football coach to pray with his team before a game.

              • Paul Reed

                The establishment clause also forbids Congress from endorsing one religion over another.
                It’s generally taken to mean that the government remains neutral on religious matters.
                From the Wikipedia article on church-state separation:
                In English, the exact term is an offshoot of the phrase, “wall of separation between church and state”, as written in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:
                “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
                Jefferson reflected his frequent speaking theme that the government is not to interfere with religion and vice versa.

        • jimlouvier

          Very well said! You’ve explained it better than I have been able to.

    • Katherine Harms

      Adherents of Islam may practice their faith, because they have the same freedom I have, the same freedom you have. That is how it works.

      • Spuddie

        Said the woman who would scream bloody murder if a hs football coach chose to coerce his players into dedicating the game to Allah and his messenger Mohammed.

  • Stev84

    It doesn’t help that in American high schools, football is a religion in of itself, and the coaches and the players can do no wrong.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      See M. Kenneth Brody’s classic paper “Institutionalized Sport as Quasi-Religion” (doi: 10.1177/019372357900300203).

  • the moother

    God isn’t helping any of these teams win matches because he’s too busy helping the poor, sick and starving in Africa. Oh, wait.

    • Bitter Lizard

      Football teams have a roughly fifty percent chance of winning. Objectively, it would be fair to say that God is more of a football fan than a babies-with-AIDS fan.

      • Timmah

        Unless the baby has a LOT of money.

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        What God does on Monday.

      • Katherine Harms

        A team in prayer before a game is not praying that God will give them the victory. They pray to that they will be victors in the struggle with integrity, which is the key to real victory.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          SOME teams do not pray for victory. Some do. We have in fact seen signs put up by schools indicating that very thing.

        • Roger Peritone

          How do you know? Were you THERE for every single team prayer before every single game in every single sport?

  • Timmah

    It’s so stupid cause can you imagine being the one kid who remains standing outside the group prayer? Or even better turning your coach in because it’s a public school and they shouldn’t be doing that in the first place? Yeah you’d only be a total outcast on the team up until you get cut for a totaly unrelated reason.

    • ZeldasCrown

      Probably not just on the team, but within the whole school and possibly the community at large. There’s potentially a lot more at stake for some of these kids depending on the attitudes of where they live.

    • Katherine Harms

      It is not a crime in this country to pray, no matter where you pray.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        When faced with the reality of violations of the Establishment Clause turning children into outcasts and even victims, you choose to support the action that turns children into outcasts and victims.

        And you are somewhat incorrect even in your defense of such. While not a criminal violation, it IS a violation of civil law for employees of public schools to lead prayer. That is well established.

        • Katherine Harms

          Where is it well established? Cite the law.

          • Spuddie

            1st amendment, establishment clause. Look it up. Look anything up before you spout off.

    • Derrik Pates

      By the time they’d have gotten far enough to be in high school football, they’d have already figured out the principle of go-along-to-get-along – i.e., you do what the coach wants and don’t complain, assuming you want to play the damn sport.

  • Katarn

    I’m sure the one Muslim student they interviewed is not the only student who does not identify as Christian. I’m also fairly certain any player who does identify differently and feels excluded is much less likely to speak out publicly. It makes sense that a player who doesn’t feel bothered by the players is the one who was willing to say how he feels.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    I understand the confusion among atheist. They just don’t understand how integral Jesus is to the game. How are high school centers supposed to understand the nuances of a zone block scheme, if he first doesn’t understand the nuances in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. And what about the end of the game, is the team that is trailing supposed to throw a “Hail statistically insignificant chances of the receiver catching the ball?”

    Also I believe this is the trophy you get if you win the Division Ia State Title.

    • katiehippie

      I bet jesus can’t even run.

      • Oranje

        He’s terrible at the read-option offense, that’s for sure. And don’t get me started on his play-action pass.

        Also, Jesus appears to have taken his helmet off. Isn’t that a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty?

        (There’s a “they’ll crucify him” joke in there somewhere.)

        • kaadred

          Playing in sandals while everyone else is wearing cleats would explain the holes in his feet.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    “A lot of our players don’t attend church” says Central coach John Allen… soooooo… if a lot of them don’t go to church… maybe a lot of them aren’t Christians… so… you’re admitting to forcing your religious views on minors in a tax funded school, even though you know a lot of them don’t share your faith…? This is what Christianity means to you? Forced conversions?

    • Tainda

      Bingo

      • Paul Reed

        Christianity means bingo…?

        • Tainda

          B4

          • Paul Reed

            You sunk my battleship!! Oh, wait…

    • tubi11

      That jumped out at me hard as well. Like a blitzing safety.

  • C Peterson

    These people are not competent to be coaches, and should be fired. To have such a lack of confidence in their own coaching skills, and in the skills of those they are coaching, that they must depend upon invisible beings in order to win is unacceptable. Even without considering the First Amendment violations, these coaches are demonstrably unfit to teach.

    • the moother

      I’m trying to imagine the interview process for coaches in the south. But, frankly, I am incapable.

    • Blacksheep

      C, if you’re a sports fan you know that some of the best, “winningest” coaches in history are/were deeply religious. So whether or not they are right or wrong in their belief, it has little bearing on competence.

      (It has nothiong to do with a lack of confidence in their coaching skills).

      Guys like Vince Lombardi (who also fiercely championed against racism), Knute Rockne, Tom Landry, and a several guys out there today are not only men of faith but considered role models and legendary coaches.

      • C Peterson

        I’m not talking about their faith. I’m talking about the gross and obscene lack of respect their insistence on group prayer displays towards their charges.

      • Spuddie

        and none of those coaches were known to shill for their faith by coercion of the players under their charge. Having faith is one thing, forcing others to participate in it is another.

    • Katherine Harms

      Coaches who lead their teams to pray before a game are not praying that God will choose them for the win. They pray to be people of integrity on the field of play.

      • allein

        People of integrity don’t coerce their public school students to pray before school football games.

      • Roger Peritone

        Again: How do you know? Were you there?

      • C Peterson

        That’s even more revolting and insulting. People can only display integrity if Sky Daddy makes it happen? Like I said, every one of these coaches should be fired. In fact, like child abusers, they should be legally enjoined from being alone in the presence of children.

        • Katherine Harms

          There is plenty of evidence in the world at large that acting with integrity is a big challenge for a lot of people. To recognize that God cares enough about people to help them with that challenge is not a crime, and it certainly is not like child abuse. That is a ridiculous comparison to make. You have every right to doubt the efficacy of prayer, and you are not required to participate in it if you don’t wish to, nor is any of those players required to participate. Every one of them could be simply remaining quiet out of respect for the coach, or perhaps half of them are simply being respectful
          You have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to free speech, so it isn’t required that you speak respectfully of God. Substituting invective for points of discussion, however, is wasted effort.

          • Spuddie

            Many people like yourself use their faith to excuse their lack of integrity, hateful attitudes and repugnant behavior. To fail to recognize how using the trappings of government duty to coerce adherence to a religious faith is both immoral and illegal shows a lack of respect for anyone besides yourself.

          • allein

            I wonder what would happen if those who chose not to participate simply walked off the field instead of “remaining quiet” while the rest of the team prayed. Expecting them to stand there and remain quiet “out of respect” is a form of coercing participation.

          • C Peterson

            Then teach them to act with integrity. That is part of growing up, part of a good education. Praying for it stands against reason, and ultimately encourages bad morals.

            I’m not speaking disrespectfully of god. That would make no sense. The lack of respect here is for coaches who lack the competence to do their jobs.

  • Paul Reed

    What is the “it” they’re referring to when they say “It’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion”…..?

    Also, aren’t the two things essentially the same? Freedom *of* choice and freedom *from* interference. It’s not one or the other…

    • GubbaBumpkin

      “It” is a shallow meme they use to respond to a serious question, because they can’t come up with a valid and convincing answer.
      That’s the whole thing with religious apologetics. It doesn’t matter if your answers make sense, it only matters that you have answers you can mouth at the appropriate time because it’s easier than thinking.

  • beatonfam

    “because they’re blissfully unaware of what the law allows — or they’re
    completely aware of what the law says and they just don’t give a damn.

    I’m pretty sure it is the latter not the former of these two. They know very well and don’t care or think it doesn’t apply to them because (and I quote again), ” We pray the Lord’s prayer before games. I pray with them every chance I
    get, and I’ll keep doing it until they tell me I can’t.” and “A lot of our players don’t attend church, so it’s very important for me to live it. We
    should be urgent about leading these young men to Christ. If they tell
    me I can’t do it and work here, I’ll go find somewhere else to work.”

    At lot of your players don’t attend church meaning they quite likely do not share your views.

    • Katherine Harms

      Players may not attend church for many reasons. Only one possible reason is their rejection of Christ. There are many other possible reasons, and most of them have nothing to do with a player’s choice to participate in team prayer. If a player chooses not to pray, he may meditate on Spinoza or whatever he chooses while remaining quiet and respectful of those who choose to pray. That is what religious liberty is all about. The First Amendment is not about freedom from religion; it is about freedom for religion to thrive.

      • PNW

        Can you please try to explain how the first amendment is not about freedom from religion?

      • allein

        “A lot of our players don’t attend church, so it’s very important for me to live it. We should be urgent about leading these young men to Christ.” is saying that not attending church is not a good thing and he thinks it’s his job as coach to encourage his players to go to church, regardless of whatever reasons they may have for not going. This is not his job.

        The players’ freedom to follow their own religious paths (whether Christian, Other, or None of the Above) necessarily requires the freedom from coercion from school officials to follow the path that particular official thinks is the “correct” one.

      • Roger Peritone

        WHICH “religion”? That’s the thing that none of you people choose to understand: Freedom of religion necessarily means that one can not be forced/coerced into following the dictates of a religion that the individual does not suscribe to.

        You seem to think that freedom of religion seems to apply only to yours. Kindly show me where in your constitution where is says anything about christianity, or god for that matter.

        • Katherine Harms

          Any religion. The constitution deliberately does not name a religion that should run the show. Every religion is protected equally. Even a choice not to follow any religion is protected, because no religion may compel you to believe. However, every religion may ask you to believe, just as every advertiser on TV may ask you to buy a product. That is simply free speech. Nobody can compel you to buy Tide, but Tide may advertise everywhere, asking you to buy Tide. Likewise, nobody can compel you to become a Christian, but Christians may invite you to become one as a matter of free speech, and you may reject the invitation, as a matter of free choice. The people who advocate the purchase of Tide are simply interested in your money, but the people who invite you to meet Christ and receive him into your heart are interested in you and your whole life. Still, from a legal standpoint, it is simply freedom of religion and free speech.

          • allein

            Yes, people are free to proselytize their religions, but not when the are acting in their capacity as a government employee, which a public school teacher/coach/administrator is. A coach leading the team in prayer before the game is not simply “advertising” his or religion to people who are free to simply walk away. They are an authority figure for a group of minor students who likely do not feel they can just leave without repurcussions.

      • Derrik Pates

        My freedom of religion is defined by freedom from YOUR, or ANYONE else’s religion telling me what I must or must not do. That’s sort of the whole point.

  • CoreyLynxx

    I’ve lived in the South my whole life and I can tell you that younger generations are getting tired of religious extremism. We’re being turned off by it because our parents force it on us instead of allowing us to make our own decisions about our beliefs.

  • BadKitty

    Do atheist players have to bow their heads and pretend to pray lest they
    be ostracized? Or do the players and coach respect their chosen lack of belief?

    • TychaBrahe

      Guess.

    • Timmah

      Atheists can’t be football players because god is everything and since the ball is part of gods universe how are they supposed to play if they don’t even belive in the ball? I mean come on now don’t be silly.

    • 3lemenope

      Love the cartoon.

  • TychaBrahe

    What kind of piss-poor deity playing at being omniscient wouldn’t know how his followers feel about winning and wouldn’t hear them praying to him quietly in their hearts? Why does prayer only count when everyone kneels down on the field for all to see?

  • newavocation

    I wonder which city is going to lead the drive in FFRF memberships now.

  • SeekerLancer

    I don’t blame the kids who won’t stand up against this sort of thing, because high school is hard enough without painting a target on yourself big enough to turn an entire community against you as we’ve seen happen again and again when they do speak out.

    I hope the school districts of each and every one of these coaches faces a lawsuit thanks to their stupidity.

    Especially that John Allen guy. Damn man, way to just flat out admit you’re running a church at public school practices.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    I remember in highschool paying lip service to my track coach, and I remember thinking there was nothing I could do about it, and I couldnt draw attention to it because literally everyone else thought it was fine…

    • m n

      I feel you; our marching band said an Our Father before every performance. Granted, it was student led – by the drum majors – and no one was technically REQUIRED to participate… but when you’re 15, it’s pretty hard to be that kid who bucks the trend and insults the team by not participating. A good number of people wouldn’t say the prayer, but EVERYONE always huddled up and held hands for the duration.

      TBH they’re probably still doing it.

      • Itsrealfunnythat

        I wouldnt be surprised it if pretty much happened every day on some team somewhere in the US.

  • Andrew L

    Look at all the evidence that was obtained without a single deposition; I almost wish I had a god to thank. Also, looks like a lot of coaches will be looking for new work. Hope they are good at something besides football.

    • Oranje

      “And the new head coach at Liberty University is…”

  • guest

    Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama…..Can we start referring to the South and the Bible belt as the Middle West now please?

  • Timothy R Alexander

    “What they don’t understand [is] it’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

    I’m so tired of this one. Why don’t they understand you can’t have freedom of, with out the option of freedom from.

  • Andrew L

    Let’s be clear about what this is, it is a Warren-Jessop-You-Can’t-Handle-the-Truth moment. They believe they will be vindicated and they are almost double daring us to test them. They will, almost assuredly, find out which sides the courts take in these cases. And I’m not the least bit squeamish about FFRF other others making martyrs out of them.

    • Paul Reed

      Not sure if Warren Jessop is a reference to something else, but the character in A Few Good Men was called Col. Nathan R. Jessup

      • Andrew L

        My mistake, thanks for the correction, Paul.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    If you want to mold boys into moral young men, why have religion be involved? Oh, right.

  • ZenDruid

    OK, quarterback: Jesus is the linebacker who’s on his way to sack your pious ass. What now?

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      Well, the devil, who plays left guard, but is a more natural tackle, chop- blocks Jesus. Jesus blows out his ACL, and is then forced to do color commentary for his local high school football games, while constantly reminding people, whom don’t care, about those glory days.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Yeah, I’ve been on a football team that did that kind of stuff. Every practice ended with a prayer where someone was picked or someone volunteered. I even had to say it once and I was already an atheist at that time (and we blew the other team away, incidentally. Not just prayer either. Before some games, the coach would bring in this preacher to do a small sermon. Something we were supposed to do during clutch moments was swing our hands a certain way that symbolized the sling of David, seeing as we were often an underestimated team. We also said the Lord’s Prayer before every game.
    I was fairly quiet about my atheism, but at some point a coach found out and took it upon himself to try and bring me around with that whole “Have you ever lied?” and other such questions method. It was intimidating on a few levels. 1st, because the coaches are your authority on the team. You aren’t supposed to question them and if you go to quit and they want you on the team, they can pull a mild mindfreak on you to get you to stay. It was also intimidating because this particular coach was known for sometimes headbutting football players while they still had their helmets on. He was a bit of a nut.
    Yeah, nothing says “fitting in with the team” like thinking you need to keep your beliefs a secret and having a coach take time to try and convince you you’re wrong about them.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “We should be urgent about leading these young men to Christ. If they tell me I can’t do it and work here, I’ll go find somewhere else to work.”

    Good, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. You are not there to be role models you are not there to convert people. You are there to teach a bunch of teenage guys how to throw a ball and tackle each other.

    • nursecathy123cat

      Coaching is not just about the physical aspect of the game. Building team rapport, energy, optimism and, yes, faith is all part of the job. You cannot raise kids in a religion-free cocoon and expect them to emerge at age 18 with an ethical character and healthy faith.

      • allein

        Religion is not necessary for “ethical character” and fostering a “healthy faith” is not the job of the public school system.

      • Derrik Pates

        The words “healthy faith” are two words that a bunch of atheists probably don’t think really go together. I know I don’t. This idea that somehow you’re “unhealthy” or otherwise damaged/defective because you don’t have religious faith is ridiculous.

  • Westwoodman

    This whole thing reminds me of a visit to Bluefield West Virginia back a few years. I was in the high school to meet with a teacher and as I walked down the hall I found a poster, right near the office, that said:

    Be a better Beaver. Read your Bible.

    (They are the Bluefield Beavers on the athletic fields)

    Yeah, somehow while this is utterly disgusting, it makes perfect sense.

  • rustygh

    Truth be told, they should all be notified they are walking a fine line to termination!

  • Conuly

    http://www.wnd.com/2005/10/32839/

    Clearly, we need to track down more Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims and convince them to take up the lucrative profession of football coach. Practical examples might make the impact.

  • Glenn Johnson

    If the coaches are so sure that their prayers protect their players with the power of God, then why do they wear pads and helmets? Honestly the more I think about religion the more of a scam it seems to be. Envoking a deity in order to curry favors in sports is so sleazy. You pray for a good clean game with the protection of Jesus, but rely on the laws of physics to move the ball and protect the Quarterback from the other team. I mean, really.

  • stop2wonder

    “To me, I’m a part of this team, so I join my teammates because that’s
    what they want to do and I bow out of respect for them. I always want to
    be there for my team because I know they would be there for me. That’s
    what being part of a team is about.”

    He should test this. One day after the team prayer, he should ask all of his teammates to stick around for a couple of minutes more and bow in silence and respect as he prays to Allah, after all that is what being part of a team is about.

    Let’s see how that goes over.

    • Miss_Beara

      Yep, When I read his comment I thought “Bwahahahaha yeah you try that and see what happens.”

  • Evkero

    This isn’t just a problem in the south. I’m a football coach in California and see it all the time.

    • Anna

      Really? What part of California? I’ve never seen anything like that in the public school system here, but I’ve also never attended any high school football games.

  • treedweller

    that whole “freedom of not freedom from” thing has a certain point. we can’t prevent others from worshiping privately, and we’re bound to bump up against them from time to time. The critical issue is not freedom from religion, it’s freedom from government-endorsed or -mandated religion.

    • Paul Reed

      “The critical issue is not freedom from religion, it’s freedom from government-endorsed or -mandated religion”

      I think this is why religious types get so freaked out by FFRF. I’m sure most of them think they want to outlaw all religion everywhere.

  • Topher Kersting
  • didaskalos

    Hemant, I appreciate your “friendly” perspective on this, as I consider myself a “sensitive Christian”. I was one of those praying coaches, and I would openly and respectfully address the option to opt out. I would talk to students 1-on-1 if I thought (or knew) they had differents views. NEVER in 30 years of teaching/coaching did I disrespect another person’s beliefs. And any Hindu, Muslim, atheist, Wican, etc. whom I taught will tell you that I didn’t force or impose my Christian beliefs. Tolerance of others’ beliefs includes tolerance to Christians who believe deeply that they are called to make a difference in lives. That’s not thorugh proselytizing, but though compassion, encouragement, love, and often, forgiveness. If you removed the teachers and coaches who feel “called” to the profession, there aren’t enough humanists to fill the shoes. I believe there are some wonderful humanist, anti-theist, agnostic, or atheist teachers out there, but in many of our public schools, over 80% of the faculty and staff is comprised of professing Christians who respect differences, but also are following their calling. Is there abuse? Sure, just as there are dissenting teachers who spew their sarcasm against God openly. If I were teaching/coaching today, I humbly tell you that parents would still be moving their children into my school so that I would be their child’s teacher/coach, because they would know that I would care about their child.

    • Paul Reed

      With respect:
      The “calling” of a teacher or coach is to teach or coach.

      If your “calling” is to preach, then you should be a priest or something.

    • Spuddie

      You really have no clue how offensive you sound to anyone who did not share your sect’s religious belief. Your calling is not an excuse to coerce others into sharing your religious view or to give the impression it is a sanctioned part of the school. It’s telling that you only considered tolerance to Christian views and blithely ignored any others.

      Your position demands that you do not pretend that your religion has the sanction of government. If you could not abide by that, you had no business in a public school.


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