Atheist group demands Alabama school stop holding baptisms on campus

A photo from an event in which members of the Washington County High School football team were baptized, with some claiming that it was a violation of the separation of church and state. | Facebook/WC Dawgs Football

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization is demanding that an Alabama school district stop allowing baptisms to be performed on its property during after-school activities.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Washington County Schools following an event last month in which 18 high school football players were baptized with their coaches overseeing the ceremony.  

Washington High School County’s football team posted a photo of the baptism event on their Facebook page and placed it as their cover photo, with other photos and videos being posted elsewhere to social media.

Christopher Line of FFRF wrote to Superintendent John Dickey in late May, arguing that the event was “illegal” and involved an unconstitutional school endorsement of religion.

“It is inappropriate for a public school district to proselytize students by organizing a team baptism. It is equally inappropriate and unconstitutional for coaches to have participated, even if students or the [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] organized the baptism,” wrote Line. “It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion. Courts have consistently held that it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious activity at public high school athletic events, such as football practice.”

Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty Institute, told Fox News in an interview published earlier this week that he believed the FFRF was wrongly “shaming high school kids.”

“The Constitution never requires people of faith to hide themselves from public view,” said Dys. “In fact, the ability of students and members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to freely exercise their faith in public is the very essence of the First Amendment.” 

Line also demanded that the school district “investigate and take the appropriate steps to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events, including team baptisms, during school-sponsored activities.”

“Coaches and school staff should be instructed that they can neither organize nor participate in religious activities with students while acting in their official capacity,” Line added.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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