A national atheist organization filed a complaint against a Georgia high school football coach after a video of him leading his players in the Lord’s prayer was posted on social media.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for atheists and agnostics in matters of public policy and faith, sent a letter on Oct. 30 to the Fannin County School superintendent. FFRF took issue with how Fannin County’s football coach, Chad Cheatham, leads his players in prayer following a victory.
The video posted on Twitter shows Cheatham standing in the middle of his players who were kneeling on the field as the team quickly recited the Lord’s prayer. The post-game ritual took place after Fannin County defeated Pepperell to improve their record to 5-0.
In the letter to the superintendent, FFRF claimed that Cheatham’s prayer is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court has “continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.”
“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer. We ask that the District commence an investigation into the complaint alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any District athletic programs,” the letter reads.
“Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”
Approximately four days following FFRF’s complaint, a law firm representing Fannin County School District issued a response, saying the issue had been addressed.
“The Superintendent has met with the high school principal, and a plan is in progress to meet with all coaches this week to discuss issues related to the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause,” the district’s letter said.
“The District is confident that all of its schools make good faith efforts to fully comply with the requirements of the Constitution and protect the rights of all parties.”
FFRF said it was pleased with the district’s decision to handle the issue internally.
“We appreciate that the district has taken action to protect students from religious coercion by their coach. Athletes shouldn’t be forced into a situation of ‘pray to play,'” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on school prayer. It struck down a Texas school policy that allowed student-initiated prayer over the loudspeaker during football games.
While the decision was 6-3 in favor of removing the policy, seven of the nine justices that voted on the issue have either retired or passed away. With today’s more conservative Supreme Court, the decision could have gone much differently.