After complaint, Ga. school system restricts coaches from joining student prayer

COWETA COUNTY, Ga. – A local school system is restricting its faculty and coaches from leading students in prayer after a national organization called them out for the practice at a high school football game.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit which focuses its efforts on separation of church and state – and other topics regarding what it calls “nontheism” – sent a letter to the Coweta County School System on Oct. 25.

In that letter, Christopher Line with the organization pointed what he called a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment” in which East Coweta County High School (Sharpsburg, Ga.) football coach John Small was seen praying with his students.

“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer,” Line said. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.”

The letter goes on to detail legal precedent and court cases for the organization’s argument – adding that public school coaches must also refrain from participating in students’ prayers.

“Coach Small’s conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee,” Line said.

Attorney Nathan T. Lee who works for Glover & Davis P.A. responded on behalf of the school system on Oct. 26 stating that the school system’s superintendent, Steve Barker, had “met with the principals of all three high schools and advised that no school staff nor volunteer staff may lead or participate in any prayer or other religious activity before, during or after high school football games.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has since responded to the fast reaction by the school system.

“We appreciate the district’s swift action to address the violation and its commitment to protecting the rights of conscience for all of its students,” says co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims 29,000 members in the U.S. – with more than 400 apparently being from Georgia. The organization said it was a local community member who first brought the practice in Coweta to their attention.

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