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A small-town North Carolina football coach hsa been told to stop baptizing players after receiving a letter from a Wisconsin-based non-profit.
Patrick Elliott, a lawyer with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, sent a letter to the Mooresville Graded School District concerning Coach Hal Capps' alleged custom of baptizing players. Elliott and others at the Foundation were concerned that Coach Capps was promoting religion in a public school, in violation of the First Amendment, the Charlotte Observer reports.
Can coaches legally baptize their public school players?
Team Baptism or Just Coincidence?
Mooresville Schools superintendent Mark Edwards told the Observer that he spoke with Capps after the football season had ended and ordered him "not to lead students in prayers or in baptism." It's not bad legal advice, either.
Although some state courts have given a green light to things like "Bible banners" at public-school football games, in general, public-school sports and the promotion of religion do not mix. The reason is that high-school athletics in public schools are still seen as an extension of the government, which constitutionally cannot promote or embrace one religion over any others.
A photo of several team members and Coach Capps at a baptism was released to the Observer, but Edwards explained it was just coincidence, as many of the players belong to the same church.
In small towns and small religious communities, overlaps between team sports and communities of faith are bound to happen, but it still can present an issue of the church-state divide.
Suing Over School Prayer
Although Coach Capps has been told to stop leading his players in prayer, it's possible that one of his students could sue him and the district. In fact, the original letter from the Foundation was premised on the complaints of a Mooresville High School student's parent, the Observer reports.
Public school prayer, although the subject of much debate, is currently not constitutional according to the U.S. Supreme Court. That includes teacher-led prayer like those prayer sessions which may have been led by Coach Capps.
Schools and educators can be held liable for leading prayer services in connection with public school facilities or funds. Coach Capps may be simply following his Christian beliefs as a private citizen, but his role as a coach and public school employee make this and similar cases somewhat more difficult.