Georgia school system prohibits coaches from joining student prayer after complaint from secular group

A school system in Georgia has prohibited its coaches and faculty members from joining students in prayer after a secular organization complained about the practice during a high school football game last month.

(REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst)Thompson High School football players kneel in prayer before kickoff as they travel to take on Spain Park High School in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. November 4, 2017.

On Oct. 25, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Coweta County School System a letter that complained about a "serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment." Christopher Line, the writer of the letter, called out East Coweta County High School's football coach John Small for leading students in prayer during a game, WCNC detailed.

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

In the letter, Line later on added: "Coach Small's conduct is unconstitutional because he endorses and promotes his religion when acting in his official capacity as a school district employee."

In response to FFRF's letter, Attorney Nathan T. Lee said school system superintendent Steve Barker had already spoken with the principals of the three schools under them, where he reportedly said that school and volunteer staff were not allowed to participate in religious activities done before, during, or after football games.

FFRF also pressured a school district in Michigan to prohibit high school football coaches from joining team prayers. The secular organization wrote a letter to Bridgeport Spaulding School District Superintendent Carol Shelby last month that complained that Bridgeport High School's junior varsity football coaches had invited their opponents to join their prayer during a game on Sept. 7, The Christian Post relayed.

In the letter, FFRF legal director Rebecca Market demanded that the Bridgeport school district should investigate the accusations and keep their coaches from joining prayers again with their team. She maintained that what the coaches did was illegal as it constituted an endorsement of a religion, adding that even kneeling and bowing one's head during the prayer should also be banned.