After a series of coaches were dismissed after being found to pray with their student athletes before or after athletic events in recent years, one Georgia state senator has introduced a state bill that would allow coaches to pray with their student athletes before or after sporting events.
There’s just one problem: Even if passed, the bill will be unenforceable because it violates the Constitution.
Per filings with the Georgia General Assembly, State Bill 361, the ‘Coach Small Religious Protection Act’ (named for East Coweta football coach John Small, who was found to be praying with his team after games) would protect a teacher when:
the context makes clear that the employee is not speaking on behalf of the school, school employees are entitled to robust protections for their religious expression.
The critical issue of interpretation in this case would appear to be whether or not a coach is still an employee representing a public entity after a game concludes or before it begins. Here’s how the legal website patheos broke down that analysis:
When a high school football coach is working a game, everything he does is under the banner of a school representative. Just because the final whistle has blown doesn’t mean his duties are over. Football coaches in particular usually have a post-game meeting with players and conversations with local reporters. If there’s a student-led prayer immediately after the game, and the coach joins in, it’s reasonable to say he’s still their football coach, not random dude John Small who just happened to wander into the prayer circle accidentally.
That’s a compelling case for why Georgia SB 361 will be an unenforceable rule even if it is passed into existence.
Of course, that won’t stop Georgia State Senator Michael Williams, a gubernatorial hopeful, from introducing the bill in the first place.