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Atheists vs. Football Coaches: Want to Bet Who'll Win?

Big Ed's Photos - Creative Commons

Susan E. Wills - published on 08/14/14

Humanists are now treading on the sacred ground of high school football tradition.

The conduct of high school football coaches at Chestatee High School in Gainesville, GA  has prompted the latest threat of suit by the American Humanist Association (AHA). After bullying Mary’s Gourmet Diner into abandoning its "praying in public" discount, AHA attorney Monica Miller has now written a seven-page letter charging that Chestatee coaches quoted Scripture on team playbooks and handouts and even led the team in prayer, in a circle, with hands joined. 

In this respect, the program is much like every other high school football program in the South, Midwest and probably nearly all of the rest of the United States. A work-out log, for example, included this passage from Galatians: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” She did not explain how this sentiment undermines the Constitution, much less the morals of teens.

This time, Ms. Miller is facing a defense that’s not going to budge. 

Randal “Thrill” Hill, former pro wide receiver on the Dolphins, Cardinals and Saints, went on FoxNews to defend the coaches and the widespread use of Christian prayer and Scripture. He pointed out that no one is forced to pray, and never saw a player take offence.   

Over 200 people turned out for an impromptu prayer rally early Wednesday morning in support of the coaches and school policy. In public. On school grounds. 

Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia’s Ninth Congressional District fired off a statement that reads in part:

“The liberal atheist interest groups trying to bully Chestatee High School kids say they have a reason to believe that expressions of religious freedom are ‘not an isolated event’ in Northeast Georgia. They’re right. In Hall County and throughout Georgia’s Ninth District, we understand and respect the Constitution and cherish our right to worship in our own way.”

There’s reason to think that Hall County Schools will not back down in the face of a threatened lawsuit. Superintendent Will Schofield told local news: “There was an awful lot in that letter that I don’t think has any legal basis. There are some things we do need to look at so we are sure we are doing things the right way.”

Attorney Hiram Sasser of the law firm Liberty Institute stated that “teachers and coaches who are not on contract time and in their individual roles as citizens may in fact pray with students after school.”

But in her interview with FoxNews, Ms. Miller insisted that “There’s really no defense for doing this,” referring to prayer, not her threatened suit.  

As any parent of a high school athlete knows, there’s a defense, an offense and a special teams for doing this. It’s a long-standing tradition—especially in high school sports—that good coaches mentor their athletes. Many coach precisely because they want to influence kids’ lives for the better. They teach, model and inspire the virtues of teamwork, humility, courage, selflessness, sacrifice, hard work, perseverance, and much more because players who acquire these virtues do better on and off the field in high school and later in life. Where else will children acquire these habits – not just by hearing about them, but by putting them into practice under the watchful eyes of coaches?

The coaches are not trying to convert anyone to a particular faith. It’s just a fact that some of the most inspiring and pithy expressions of these virtues come from Scripture. My bet, the American Humanist Association hasn’t a prayer of winning this battle.

Susan E. Wills is Spirituality Editor of Aleteia’s English edition.

LiturgyPrayerReligious Freedom
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