Wednesday, February 5, 2014

N.C. public high school football coach's baptisms come under fire

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 11:50 AM

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the constitutional separation of church and state, found evidence that it says shows Mooresville High School coach Hal Capps baptizing and praying over players and students - months after the organization requested Capps stop the practices.

Freedom from Religion staff attorney Patrick Elliot emailed a photo from the Mooresville High School Blue Devils football team's Twitter account to the Charlotte Observer last Thursday. The photo, captioned "Thank you coach Capps for your guidance, leadership, and most of all your faith," allegedly shows Capps leading a team baptism. Mooresville Graded School District Superintendent Mark Edwards says the photo was taken at Charles Mack Citizen Center in downtown Mooresville and was not officially a team baptism, though Mooresville High football players were present.

Elliot, who says "it is a violation of the Constitution for [Capps] to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices," originally wrote the school district about Capps last fall after students reported the coach leading prayers at team events and encouraging football players to go to church.

According to criteria established by Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1968, any practice sponsored by public schools must have a secular purpose, neither advance nor inhibit religion, and must not result in "excessive tanglement" between government and religion in order to be constitutional. It was Capps' advancement of religion via prayers before and after games - which are school-sponsored events - as well as player baptisms that drew the Freedom from Religion Foundation's ire.

Edwards said he explained the constitutional violation to Capps after the Foundation's initial complaint, and that Capps "said he understood." Capps wasn't disciplined, but wrote letters to players and their families saying he wouldn't lead the team in any more prayers. The coach declined to comment after the release of the Twitter photo.

View the photo here.

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