The coach of a successful high school boys’ basketball team has resigned after an atheist organization complained about the players wearing Bible verse-themed t-shirts.
The Animas High School Panthers in New Mexico advanced to the Class 1A state tournament this year, but not before sparking a controversy with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an organization of atheists and agnostics.
The Panthers’ players wore t-shirts in a Feb. 27 game warmups emblazoned with the phrase, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A community member reported the t-shirts to the Wisconsin-based FFRF, which wrote a letter to the school superintendent, calling the t-shirts a violation of the First Amendment.
The superintendent, Loren R. Cushman, wrote back on April 22, saying the matter had been resolved.
“The coach has submitted his resignation from the district,” Cushman wrote.
Animas is a small community of about 230 people, roughly an hour from the Mexico border.
Cushman did not identify the coach.
“I attended the game in question,” Cushman wrote. “When I observed the players wearing the t-shirts during pregame warmup, I immediately questioned the coach and athletic director.”
A local religious group, Cushman said, provided the shirts, and the coach handed them to the players a day or two prior to the game.
“I gave specific instructions at that time [at the game] that this not permissible and was not to happen again,” Cushman wrote.
Cushman said he was concerned the shirts “could give the message of endorsement by the district.”
FFRF also complained about the coach holding a Bible study with players. Cushman said the Bible study was part of a local youth religious group, and that the coach attended and sometimes led the Bible study.
“It is in no way sponsored or endorsed by the school district,” Cushman wrote.
Fox News’ Todd Starnes sided with the coach.
“It’s a mighty sad day in America when a high school basketball coach is deemed unfit because he is a follower of Jesus,” Starnes wrote.
Shawn Akers, dean of Liberty University’s Helms School of Government from 2010 to 2018, says the Constitution’s First Amendment has been misconstrued to mean something the Founders never intended. “All of the Founders,” he said. “looked to … Judeo-Christian morality.’
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Isaiah Rustad/Unsplash
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.