A tweet showing a football coach leading his team in the Lord’s Prayer has sparked a letter of complaint from a national atheist group.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation mailed a letter Oct. 30 to the Fannin County School superintendent after Fannin County’s football coach, Chad Cheatham, was seen on social media standing in the middle of his players as the group quickly recited the Lord’s Prayer. The 12-second prayer took place after his post-game speech and after Fannin County defeated Pepperell to remain unbeaten.
Love this team! 5-0 2-0 in Region. Travel to Copper Basin for our next game. Friday 7:30pm Postgame victory and prayer. pic.twitter.com/lgAaMmnrEl— Fannin County Football (@Fannincountyfb) October 17, 2020
Cheatham that night posted the same video on his own Twitter account, writing, “We battle on and off the field! There is so much adversity in today’s world! We all feel the pressure and anxiety! We have to quiet the noise! Stay focused on the vision and mission! Love to All!”
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represents atheists, agnostics and skeptics, said in its letter that the prayer is unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent. The letter cited the social media post.
“It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” the letter said. “... We ask that the District commence an investigation into the complaint alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any District athletic programs. Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”
On Nov. 3, a law firm representing the school district responded to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and said the complaint had been addressed.
“The Superintendent has met with the high school principal, and a plan is in progress to meet with all coaches this week to discuss issues related to the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause,” the letter said. “The District is confident that all of its schools make good faith efforts to fully comply with the requirements of the Constitution and protect the rights of all parties.”
The U.S. Supreme Court most recently issued a ruling on school prayer in 2000, when it struck down a Texas school’s policy that allowed student-led, student-initiated prayer over the public address system at football games. The decision was 6-3. Since then, seven of the nine justices have either retired or died. It is not known how the current court – which is more conservative than the one in 2000 – would rule on such a case.
Photo courtesy: ©Fannin County/FB/Twitter
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.