VILLA RICA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) — Administrators at one Georgia high school are conducting an investigation after a church’s video surfaced showing high school football players being baptized before practice.
The baptism took place three weeks ago before the Villa Rica Wildcats’ football practice. CBS News reports Andy Szatkowski, defensive coordinator and gym teacher, was first to be baptized, following by 18 football players. The video was uploaded by the First Baptist Church in Villa Rica.
“I was so proud for these young men and their example of their new relationship with Christ and what it means in their life and what it means in that school,” Alan Martinez, head of the local booster club, told CBS News.
The video was captioned, “Take a look and see how God is still in our schools!” Kevin Williams, senior pastor of the church, told CBS News that they did not ask the school for permission to conduct the baptism.
“The school really didn’t have anything to do with it. It was really us, the church and men in community kind of setting it up,” he said, adding that a lot of people “don’t want God in anything.”
Williams explained to CBS News that no student was coerced into getting baptized.
“We never thought we would get so much attention over some kids getting baptized,” Williams said.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the Carroll County School District a letter asking it to “immediately investigate and take action to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events.”
“Our students should not be forced to pray to play, and this is coercive and proselytizing,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s co-president, told CBS News.
She continued, “Football players are at mercy of their coach and want to please their coach, and when they are being corralled to come and attend a religious worship service to be dunked and baptized, how can anyone not realize that’s coercive?”
The school district said in a statement it is “looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed.”