Home Top Stories School Defends Football Coach Over Prayers, Church Meals

School Defends Football Coach Over Prayers, Church Meals

By Todd Starnes

A Wisconsin-based group that accused a Georgia high school football coach of violating the First Amendment by allowing churches to prepare meals for his team — has now sent a second letter hinting at a possible lawsuit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation warned the superintendent of Walker County Schools that if they continue the longtime tradition they could face a lawsuit.

“Should this complaint progress to a lawsuit it is very likely the district will bear significant costs when it loses,” FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in a letter to Supt. Damon Raines.

The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based group whose purpose is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.” Some conservative groups said the group has a long history of trying to eradicate religion — specifically Christianity — from American culture.

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver blasted the Wisconsin-based group.

“This atheist group continues to lick stamps and send frivolous letters with militant zeal designed to hurt communities because of its anti-Christian fixation,” Staver said. “Nothing in the Constitution requires communities to abandon common sense and create zones hostile to religion.”

The FFRF is demanding the school system launch an investigation into allegations that Mark Mariakis, the head coach of the Ridgeland High School football team,  allowed local churches to prepare pre-game meals for his football team. They also allege that the coach prayed with his team, used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts and participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Taking public school football teams to church, even for a meal, is unconstitutional,” wrote Seidel in a previous letter. “This program is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause and must cease immediately.”

Seidel said taking school children to churches and having ministers “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and having the food blessed “shatters the protections the First Amendment put in place.”

Mariakis said in a press conference that he had received thousands of phone calls and messages of support — but referred all questions about the FFRF allegations to school officials. Thousands of people have joined a Facebook page defending the coach.

Supt. Raines told reporters that they have reviewed the letters and the allegations.

“The Walker County Board of Education feels we are in compliance with our federal and state laws,” he said.

Liberty Counsel has offered to assist the school system in the event of a legal attack from FFRF.

“The Constitution does not demand the eradication of faith from public life nor prohibit churches from participating in the life of the local community,” Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast wrote in a letter to the school board. “A church has as much right as any other local civic organization to provide pre-game meals to members and guests, even if they are a part of the local high school football team.”

The FFRF said a local individual complained about a longstanding tradition of local churches providing meals to the teenage football players on game day. The complainant said a minister would typically deliver remarks “about the Christian religion.”

“The fact that Mariakis visits several churches instead of one does not mitigate the violation,” Seidel wrote.

The Chattanooga Valley Baptist Church is scheduled to provide a meal for the football team in late October.

Richie White, the church’s youth director, said he was quite surprised to hear that an outside group had issues with feeding children.

“It would be interesting to see what part of the Constitution we violated by simply offering a meal to fellow Americans,” he told Fox News. “These are kids from our area that we do love and we do care about.”

White said several members of the church youth group are on the football squad – and it’s been a tradition to show their support for school athletics.

“We as Christians don’t force our religion on anyone,” he said, suggesting that perhaps Christians are treated differently.

“We’re being persecuted because we believe there is a God who created us,” White said. “I don’t think there’s an equal playing field because we base our lives and our views on the Scripture.”

Todd is the author of Dispatches From Bitter America – an expose on how President Obama has declared war on traditional American values. The book is endorsed by Sarah Palin, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity. Click here to get your copy!