North Carolina Football Coach Ordered to Cease Leading Team Prayers Following Atheist Complaint

Prayer Football pdMOORESVILLE, N.C. — A high school football coach in North Carolina has been ordered to cease leading his team in prayers following a complaint by a prominent atheist activist organization.

Officials with the Mooresville Graded School District recently told Mooresville High School football coach Hal Capps to stop leading the Blue Devils in prayer, and Capps has agreed to discontinue to the practice.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had contacted the district last fall after learning of Capps’ practice and asserted that the prayers were unlawful. According to reports, a parent of a student had complained to the organization, stating that they did not like promoting religion.

“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to District Attorney Kevin Donaldson. “It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion.”

Superintendent Mark Edwards told the Charlotte Observer this week that he approached Capps following the football season and told him to discontinue praying with the team, advising that it was a violation of the separation of church and state.

“He said he understood,” Edwards stated.

FFRF had also asserted that Capps had held a team baptism, sending the district a photograph that showed the coach in an indoor pool with several young students and a group of onlookers. However, officials state that the event was not a team baptism, but that a local church hosted a baptism for some of the team members, who then requested that Capps be present.

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Despite Capps’ agreement to discontinue the prayers, a number of area team members are now expressing their support for the coach and their disapproval of FFRF. #ISupportCapps soon became a new Twitter hashtag.

“#ISupportCapps and he’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’m twice the guy and player I was when I came to Mooresville as a freshman,” Tweeted team member Dallas Jackson.

“Love my coach mane; he do a lot for me,” posted Dash Ingram. “Helping me with a lot of stuff mane! Coach Capps [is] the truth mane #ISupportCapps.”

Local residents likewise largely supported the coach.

“I believe what the Bible says,” Belvin Sherrill told WBTV. “It upsets that some people can just dictate what you do because of their beliefs and not take into consideration your own.”

“I think the man, the coach, should be able to pray with his players or anybody else that he wants too,” resident Betty Lambert also remarked to the outlet. “That’s our right; we as Christians have stood back too long.”

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  • Preggy Dorasamy

    Just 1 athiest ……he should b excused and the rest honour Jesus ! Period.

  • The enemy is working double time to stop anything that pertains to God. How hard are we working to stop him?

  • Doug Indeap

    It is important to distinguish between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school coaches coaching students at practices or games), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. (Students also are free to exercise and express their religious views–in a time, manner, and place that does not interfere with school programs and activities.) If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.