The Freedom From Religion Foundation complained high school football coaches in Chatom, Ala. were doing “illegal” activities last month when they oversaw 18 football players get baptized near the field.
One by one, Washington County High School players walked into a feeding trough filled with water from a garden hose, as a pastor baptized them “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” all caught on camera by a staff member of Chatom Baptist Church.
“What a blessing to end the school year like this,” one user wrote on Facebook. Another said: “Praise the Lord! This is awesome.”
But this late afternoon activity on a Thursday in May at Jordan-Wilcox Stadium, applauded and rejoiced by those in attendance, allegedly upset a community member in the town of less than 1,200. That person alerted the Wisconsin-based FFRF.
The group dedicated to the “separation of church and state” sent a letter to the Washington County Schools superintendent May 29 demanding a district investigation claiming it is “illegal for coaches to organize or participate in religious activities with students, including baptisms.”
“We request that the district investigate and take the appropriate steps to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events, including team baptisms, during school-sponsored activities,” wrote Christopher Line, a FFRF legal fellow. “Coaches and school staff should be instructed that they can neither organize nor participate in religious activities with students while acting in their official capacity.”
Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm, told Fox News the FFRF’s “shaming high school kids…is pathetic and needs to stop.”
“The Constitution never requires people of faith to hide themselves from public view,” Dys added. “In fact, the ability of students and members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to freely exercise their faith in public is the very essence of the First Amendment.”
The Bulldogs are not the first team to come under hot water for baptisms from the FFRF. In Villa Rica, Ga., the local First Baptist Church baptized a coach and several players after holding a football-themed worship service called “Gridiron Day” in 2015. It was blasted as “unconstitutional” by the Wisconsin-based group.