VILLA RICA, Ga. — A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.
The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice. “We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.
By Tuesday evening, the video had been removed from YouTube.
The Carroll County School system released a statement Tuesday afternoon:
“The Carroll County School System was made aware of a situation that took place at Villa Rica High School prior to football practice on August 17th. The District is currently looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Carroll County Tuesday asking the district to “immediately investigate and take action to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events”. In the letter, the FFRF mentioned its lawsuit against Emanuel County School District for similar practices. The group is now seeking punitive and personal liability damages in that case. “We prefer to settle these matters cooperatively,” the letter ends with a request to detail the steps the school district is taking to comply with the First Amendment.
“I can’t remember another case like this,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “It’s really misusing the authority of the coach to promote his personal religious agenda.”
The state of Georgia remains a lightning rod for these kinds of cases. A school band in downstate Dublin caught flack last Friday for playing “Amazing Grace.” Last fall, the Madison County School Board voted to remove two Bible verses from a monument for the football team.
Those involved with this event have not hidden from it. The Villa Rica Touchdown Club posted the video to its Facebook page with the caption, “Share this with everyone! This should go viral!”
“Starting this video out, they call it a step of obedience, and then the camera pans to the students,” said Gaylor. “It’s forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team. How are they going to cross their coach? They have no choice. It’s proselytizing, it’s coercive, and it’s not legal in our schools.”
TEGNA partner 11Alive News made numerous requests on Tuesday to the First Baptist Church of Villa Rica, but its pastor did not respond.