FFRF chides Toombs County, Ga., for praying coaches and football chaplain

1ToombsCountySchoolsGAThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling timeout on a Georgia school district for its multiple violations of the U.S. Constitution. Not only are coaches and an outside pastor praying with the high school football team, religious propaganda is also being posted on its official social media.

A concerned resident informed FFRF that football coaches at Toombs County High School (located in Lyons, Ga.) have been promoting religion to students. A video posted on Facebook shows coaches making religious statements and initiating a religious chant with students after a game. In the video, each coach makes a statement before reciting the phrase, “God is good,” to which the students respond: “All the time.” Each coach then says, “All the time,” and the students respond: “God is good.” This is repeated a dozen times. A coach tells students to “know who you are and know He’s given you purpose” while pointing to the sky. After each of the coaches repeat this religious chant, one of the coaches says, “Pastor Toole, pray us out.” Pastor Steven Toole then leads the team in an elaborate prayer that includes the following language: “God, I thank you that I see wins every day. And God, as you work in them and you show them purpose in their lives beyond … God, I just pray for your protection on everyone as we return home. And God, in everything that we do … so that you receive all glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Toole is apparently a local pastor who the school employs to pray with and promote religion to the team.

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Toombs County Schools Superintendent Barry Waller. “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students. Federal courts have held that even a public school coach’s silent participation in student prayer circles is unconstitutional.”

The district’s employment of a chaplain is an additional constitutional violation. Public schools cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for students, or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief, because public schools may not advance or promote religion. The school’s endorsement of Christianity is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are nonreligious or not Christian.

The Toombs County High School football program also regularly posts religious messages and bible verses on its official Twitter account, another unlawful and disturbing practice.

It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district. Advancing, preferring and promoting religion is exactly what a school district does when its employees post religious messages on official public social media pages. These proselytizing messages give the appearance of district endorsement of religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over all other faiths. They also conflict with the personal religious and nonreligious views of many district students and families, including the 38 percent of Americans born after 1987 who identify as nonreligious.

“Toombs County High School officials have a lot of nerve imposing their sectarian religiosity on all of their players,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Not only is this unconstitutional, it is also highly presumptuous.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 500 members and a chapter in Georgia. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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