GAINESVILLE, Ga. — A nationally-recognized humanist organization has threatened to file a lawsuit against a Georgia school district if it does not forbid football coaches at a local high school from “promot[ing] Christianity.”
The American Humanist Association (AHA) sent a letter on Tuesday to the superintendent of Hall County Schools, the principal of Chestatee High School and the chairman of the Board of Education after it received any complaint from a local resident about practices at the school.
According to the letter, written by AHA attorney Monica Miller, coaches at Chestatee High School have allegedly been citing Bible verses on team documents and either leading or joining with the team in prayer.
“We have received reports that CHS coaches have joined players in prayer while standing in a circle, hands interlocked. At times, the head coach has led the prayers, which is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause,” the correspondence reads. “Further violating the Constitution, a citation to Galatians 6:9 was placed at the bottom of workout log sheets given to players, and the citation and text of Proverbs 27:17 was written in giant letters on a banner used for a football team pregame entrance.”
“This type of religious activity, by government employees in the course of their duties as public school football coaches, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause,” Miller asserted, demanding “that CHS coaching staff cease leading, participating in, or encouraging team prayer, and that the school remove all Bible verses and other religious messages from team documents and related materials.”
The organization threatened a possible lawsuit if the practices are not discontinued, requesting that a response be received in two weeks.
“When a teacher or coach leads or participates in prayer with students, the prayers become sponsored by the school,” Miller stated in a press release announcing the demand letter. “The cases make clear that public schools must not even give the appearance of taking a position on religious belief, yet in this program we see ongoing biblical verses and references to religion. This evidences a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of all students.”
The school district states that it is investigating the claims.
“There certainly is no legal precedent that you can’t use a verse … that does not promote a particular religion,” Superintendent Will Schofield told the Gainesville Times. “Until I know exactly what text we’re talking about, we’ll have to investigate that. … [I]f some of our folks are doing what they shouldn’t, we’ll take care of it.”
While AHA and other church-state separation groups have been challenging teacher-led prayers and other activities throughout the nation, others may note that religious studies were included in public schools in early America. As previously reported, the first textbook used in the nation even before its founding, The New England Primer, was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was brought to the land by the Puritans. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” it read, in teaching children the alphabet, using Adam as an example of the letter A.
“Thy life to mend, this Book attend,” it continued for the letter B, referring to the Scriptures. “My Book and heart shall never part.”
“Christ crucified, for sinners died,” read the letter C.