GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Approximately 200 students at a Georgia high school and their parents gathered to pray on the football field Wednesday—with an even larger gathering on Thursday—in response to a letter from a national humanist organization that threatened possible legal action if the school’s coaches continue “promot[ing] Christianity.”
As previously reported, 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. District officials state that they are conducting an investigation into the matter.
“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.”
But students at Chestatee High School decided to demonstrate their support for the football team on Wednesday by gathering together to pray on the field. According to reports, an estimated 200 students and their parents huddled on the field in solidarity, and a second gathering, which was said to have been even larger, was held on Thursday at another location on the campus.
“We choose to pray, they don’t make us pray,” Megan Ellis, a student at Chestatee High School told reporters.
“I think [the controversy is] really ridiculous. Every school does it,” added student Marlen Olvera. “Every school prays before football games and after football games. It’s not the coach’s decision; it’s the students decision.”
“I think it’s sad that you can be in a state prison, and you can have a Bible and read it all day long, and you can have a worship service inside that prison, but you can’t pray on a football field,” said parent Kevin Elrod.