GAINESVILLE, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) — An atheist organization is threatening legal action against a Georgia high school football team for promoting Christianity to its players.
The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Hall County School District and Chestatee High School in Gainesville Tuesday alerting them to stop the coaches from integrating Bible verses into team documents and leading team prayers.
“When a teacher or coach leads or participates in prayer with students, the prayers become sponsored by the school,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the legal center, said in a statement. “The cases make clear that public schools must not even give the appearance of taking a position on religious belief, yet in this program we see ongoing biblical verses and references to religion. This evidences a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of all students.”
The atheist group says a concerned citizen reached out to them over the football team’s religious ways. The letter states the high school football coaches are violating the Establishment Cause in the First Amendment.
“This type of religious activity, by government employees in the course of their duties as public school football coaches, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. This letter demands that CHS coaching staff cease leading, participating in, or encouraging team prayer, and that the school remove all Bible verses and other religious messages from team documents and related materials,” Miller wrote in the letter.
The letter included three photos showing a team prayer, a workout sheet with the Galatians 6:9 Bible verse (Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up) and a game day banner with Proverbs 21:17 (As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.)
Superintendent Will Schofield said that students have a right to pray.
“Certainly adults shouldn’t be leading children in prayers to any particular religion, but one thing we will stand behind is our students’ right to prayer,” Schofield told the Gainesville Times.
Schofield added: “There certainly is no legal precedent that you can’t use a verse … that does not promote a particular religion. Until I know exactly what text we’re talking about, we’ll have to investigate that.”
School district spokesman Gordon Higgins said they will comply with the law.
“We are, by our duty, charged with upholding the constitutions of the United States and the state of Georgia,” Higgins told the Times. “If there is a violation, we will take steps to make sure it is corrected.”
Despite the letter, students at the high school took part in a prayer circle on the football field.
Head football coach Bill Forman did not comment on the letter.