Atheists go after football coach for what they call 'pray to play' baptism

Nov 2008
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NEWTON, Mississippi (Christian Examiner) – A Wisconsin-based atheist group has filed a complaint with a Mississippi school district over the public baptism of a football player by his coach.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the complaint to Newton, Mississippi, School District Superintendent Virginia Young Oct. 13 calling the coach to account for what it said is promoting religion in front of the team.
According to the Clarion Ledger, Newton High School Coach Ryan Smith baptized senior Garrick Alford before dozens of members of the football team in September after Alford approached the coach, who is a Christian, and told him he wanted to be saved.

Smith reportedly counseled Alford for several weeks before holding the baptism, but it is primarily what Smith said at the baptism that has the atheist group fired up. He told the players God was encouraging him to reach the players with the message of the Gospel. He said accepting Christ is "a decision a man is supposed to make."


According to the atheist group, the baptism gives the impression the coach and coaching staff "value Christian players above players who practice a minority religion and no religion at all."
"We appreciate that Coach Smith wants his players to grow as young men in addition to progressing as athletes. But Smith can instill all the secular values he mentioned in his sermon – values like personal responsibility, family, leadership, and teamwork – without promoting his personal religious beliefs. Indeed, if he wants to continue having access to students as a representative of the school district, he must keep his personal religious beliefs to himself."
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FFRF's Co-President Dan Barker said the coach was practicing "pray to play."


"The Newton Municipal School District has nothing to do with Coach Smith's private religious beliefs or activities. This lawsuit threatens action against this school unless it actively intervenes in the religious practice of its employees. The FFRF's demand rejects religious tolerance, rejects religious accommodation and seeks to create a system where the government can dictate to its employees how, where and with whom that privately practice their religion," Hurst said in the organization's statement.
In another letter directly to Superintendent Young, Hurst said Coach Smith had done nothing wrong in practicing his religious belief and there was no constitutional violation because the act of baptism was conducted outside of school hours, after the coach's official duties were concluded for the day, on private property, and with "other individuals wishing to express their own privately-held religious beliefs."
Hurst said the coach did not request that the other players attend the baptism. Those facts were confirmed by Superintendent Young in a statement of her own.Atheists go after football coach for what they call 'pray to play' baptism
Is the FFRF overstepping its authority here by trying to dictate what a coach and football player does after hours on his own time on private property. I don't see the connection with the school and the establishment clause here. The FFRF is trying to make a story when none exist.
 
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On a happy trail
NEWTON, Mississippi (Christian Examiner) – A Wisconsin-based atheist group has filed a complaint with a Mississippi school district over the public baptism of a football player by his coach.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the complaint to Newton, Mississippi, School District Superintendent Virginia Young Oct. 13 calling the coach to account for what it said is promoting religion in front of the team.
According to the Clarion Ledger, Newton High School Coach Ryan Smith baptized senior Garrick Alford before dozens of members of the football team in September after Alford approached the coach, who is a Christian, and told him he wanted to be saved.

Smith reportedly counseled Alford for several weeks before holding the baptism, but it is primarily what Smith said at the baptism that has the atheist group fired up. He told the players God was encouraging him to reach the players with the message of the Gospel. He said accepting Christ is "a decision a man is supposed to make."


According to the atheist group, the baptism gives the impression the coach and coaching staff "value Christian players above players who practice a minority religion and no religion at all."
"We appreciate that Coach Smith wants his players to grow as young men in addition to progressing as athletes. But Smith can instill all the secular values he mentioned in his sermon – values like personal responsibility, family, leadership, and teamwork – without promoting his personal religious beliefs. Indeed, if he wants to continue having access to students as a representative of the school district, he must keep his personal religious beliefs to himself."
\

FFRF's Co-President Dan Barker said the coach was practicing "pray to play."


"The Newton Municipal School District has nothing to do with Coach Smith's private religious beliefs or activities. This lawsuit threatens action against this school unless it actively intervenes in the religious practice of its employees. The FFRF's demand rejects religious tolerance, rejects religious accommodation and seeks to create a system where the government can dictate to its employees how, where and with whom that privately practice their religion," Hurst said in the organization's statement.
In another letter directly to Superintendent Young, Hurst said Coach Smith had done nothing wrong in practicing his religious belief and there was no constitutional violation because the act of baptism was conducted outside of school hours, after the coach's official duties were concluded for the day, on private property, and with "other individuals wishing to express their own privately-held religious beliefs."
Hurst said the coach did not request that the other players attend the baptism. Those facts were confirmed by Superintendent Young in a statement of her own.Atheists go after football coach for what they call 'pray to play' baptism
Is the FFRF overstepping its authority here by trying to dictate what a coach and football player does after hours on his own time on private property. I don't see the connection with the school and the establishment clause here. The FFRF is trying to make a story when none exist.
If it involves coercion, why not? Does God approve of coercion?
 
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NiteGuy

Former Staff
Jul 2011
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And the law the coach broke was?
An explicit law? None.

But he still violated the Constitution, and at least one Supreme Court ruling. As a teacher, he should have known better than to perform the baptism of a student, much less have other students there to witness the event.

And here's a question I haven't seen answered in either the article, or anyone else -- Why did the football player want his coach to perform the baptism. Why not his own minister or preacher?
 
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Apr 2011
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My mother's womb, of course.
An explicit law? None.

But he still violated the Constitution, and at least one Supreme Court ruling. As a teacher, he should have known better than to perform the baptism of a student, much less have other students there to witness the event.

And here's a question I haven't seen answered in either the article, or anyone else -- Why did the football player want his coach to perform the baptism. Why not his own minister or preacher?
The article says the coach didn't invite the other players to the baptism, but the players who attended the baptism probably felt compelled to attend it because, after all, they thought they had to do what was good for the team. That is religious coercion. They weren't attending out of personal choice, which is why the Establishment Clause exists.
 
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Nov 2008
67,024
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Washington state
An explicit law? None.

But he still violated the Constitution, and at least one Supreme Court ruling. As a teacher, he should have known better than to perform the baptism of a student, much less have other students there to witness the event.

And here's a question I haven't seen answered in either the article, or anyone else -- Why did the football player want his coach to perform the baptism. Why not his own minister or preacher?
Was the coach breaking the school rules by baptizing the student on private property after school hours? It becomes an issue when a person doing something private on private property after school hours. It tells me a religious person has no free exercise and anyone can hound a religious person if they feel like it.
 
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NiteGuy

Former Staff
Jul 2011
17,044
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Teardrop City
Was the coach breaking the school rules by baptizing the student on private property after school hours? It becomes an issue when a person doing something private on private property after school hours. It tells me a religious person has no free exercise and anyone can hound a religious person if they feel like it.
It's not a matter of breaking school rules.

The guy was a teacher to the student who was to be baptized, as well as those who came to witness it. And while it was technically off of school property, it was only 100 feet away, and held immediately after a football practice.

And I guess you missed my questions. Why have the school teacher/coach perform the baptism? Why not let his parents know he wanted to be baptized, and have it performed at his church? How would the student even know that the coach would be willing to do this, unless the coach at one time or another had been talking about it?
 
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