A local community in North Carolina is rallying behind its high school football coach, who was recently banned from praying at school football games after an atheist group complained.
Hal Capps, the head football coach for the Blue Devils at Mooresville High School, was banned from leading players in the Lord's Prayer prior to school football games after a parent complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation that in turn issued a letter to the Mooresville Graded School District demanding they cease the practice.
"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," Patrick Elliott, an attorney for the Madison-based FFRF nonprofit group, said in a letter to school district lawyer Kevin Donaldson last fall. "It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion."
The Freedom From Religion foundation also alleged that Capps was leading members of his team in baptism rituals, as referenced by a photo uploaded to the Blue Devils Twitter account that shows the coach participating in a baptism with students.
In response to the group's allegations, Superintendent Mark Edwards told the local Charlotte Observer that he has met with Capps and told him to end the Christian-themed prayers with players. Capps reportedly said he "understood" he could no longer lead the prayers. Additionally, in reference to the Twitter photo of the baptism, Edwards clarified that Capps was simply attending a baptism that some of his players had invited him to, and the religious ritual was in no way sponsored by the team or school.
Although the coach has reportedly agreed to stop leading the prayers, his local community and team have rallied around him, arguing that it is his constitutional right to express his faith if he so wishes. The community has become so united in supporting Capps that they have started the Twitter trend "#ISupportCapps" to show their solidarity with the coach.
One team player, Dallas Jackson, recently tweeted, "#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."
Additionally, Jackson recently appeared on "Fox & Friends" on Monday to reiterate his support for his coach, saying he has volunteered to take over the pre-game prayers if Capps will no longer lead students in the ritual. Jackson added that Coach Capps usually leads the Lord's Prayer before the games and asks God to watch over every player and their safety out on the field.
"Coach always gives you the option if you don't want to pray, you can step out. You don't have to pray," Jackson told the morning talk show, adding that the community is disappointed in the school's decision to stop the prayers because Capps has done so much to help his players and neighbors.
"He's more than just a coach," Jackson said." He does a lot for the students and the community, and he reaches out to families that don't have a lot. And he helps us all grow as men more than just players."
More community members spoke to the local WBTV station to express their outrage that Capps must stop praying. "I think the man, the coach should be able to pray with his players, pray with his players or anybody else that he wants too," resident Betty Lambert told the local media station. "That's our right, we as Christians have stood back too long."
"Being a Christian I have no problem with prayer in school or pray anywhere," added Mooresville resident Belvin Sherrill. "If a coach was to lead a team in prayer, that's perfectly fine."
Both the FFRF and the school district have said they consider the issue with Capps to be resolved since the coach appears to have stopped leading the pre-game prayers.