In Alabama, a public school football team on Nov. 21 held a baptism on school property with the head coach and other staff in attendance, which is unconstitutional, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF has asked that the school district take the appropriate steps to ensure there will be no further religious rituals, including baptisms, during school-sponsored activities at Reeltown High School in Notasulga.
But U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, who is a candidate for the Senate seat held by Democrat Doug Jones, was clearly aghast at FFRF’s complaint. He sent out this tweet:
“I’m sick of these groups trying to tell us that we aren’t allowed to live out our faith. The Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to pack it up and stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats. The foundation says they want separation of church and state, but what they really want to [do] is to rip God out of our nation altogether. I’m thankful for leaders like Coach [Matt] Johnson who are doing the right thing and serving as positive role models to our young people.”
FFRF contends that students will perceive the baptism as endorsed by the school, since this religious ritual took place on school property with school staff members present.
“Courts have consistently held that it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious activity at public high school athletic events, such as football practice,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Joseph C. Windle.
Most importantly, allowing outside adults to perform religious rituals specific to one religion — in this case Christianity — at a team event, ostracizes those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion. The freedom of conscience of all students must be respected.
“It’s an egregious overstep for public school officials to put Christian baptism in the playbook,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.