A Wisconsin-based group has accused a Georgia high school football coach of violating the First Amendment by allowing local churches to prepare meals for his team.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the superintendent of Walker County Schools demanding an “immediate investigation” into Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis.
The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based group whose purpose is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.”
They are demanding the school system launch an investigation into allegations that Coach Mariakis 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 FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel. “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.”
The Walker County School system released a statement acknowledging they have received the letter and are reviewing its contents.
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 kis 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.”
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and a national commentator on social issues, said it’s time for Christians to stand up against the attacks from the FFRF.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has dedicated itself to perverting the very real First Amendment freedom of religious expression for an imaginary freedom from religious expression,” he told Fox News. “It is time for all Christians to push back against the attempts of atheistic groups and judicial activists to erase our constitutional right of freedom of religious expression.”
Ken Klukowski, special counsel for the Family Research Council said the FFRF has a long history of going after public displays of religion. Their mission, he said is very clear.
“They believe all religious faith is inherently and irredeemably harmful to human society,” Klukowski told Fox News. “It’s not their mission to separate church and state. It’s their mission to eradicate religion from American culture altogether.”
He said the Wisconsin-based group wants a “purely secular environment.”
“They pursue it with a militant zeal that is foreign to most people in this country,” he said.
That may be the case, but according to Klukowski – they may in fact have a case against Ridgeland High School.
“If they are suing on behalf of one of the students, even though they should not prevail, they could,” he said.
It’s unclear based on the letter sent to the school district whether the complainant is a student or member of the local community.
If, for example, the student was a member of the football team and objected to attending a local church, the FFRF could have a case – primarily because of the makeup of the Supreme Court, he said.
“If our law pertaining to religious liberty under the Constitution is anything resembling what it was for the first two centuries of our national life, then they wouldn’t have a prayer,” he added.
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!