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Alabama Superintendent Defends School Baptisms

March 25th, 2020

A high school student is suing his school board after they refused to allow him to conduct school prayer before football games.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling for an investigation after 26 Alabama high school football players participated in school baptisms.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation called for an investigation after 26 Alabama high school football players were baptized at the school’s football stadium. While the organization claims that school baptisms leave non-religious and non-Christian students at the school feeling ostracized, a superintendent for the school has commented that the school followed all necessary laws.

It might sound hard to believe, but after a similar event occurred last year in Tennessee, baptisms among football players are beginning to play an important role in deciding what type of separation is required between church and state.

How the School Baptisms Occurred

In May 2019, players on the Washington County High School football team were baptized in a trough located at the school’s football field’s 50-yard line. Both the school’s head football coach and family members were present for the baptism. In response, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Superintendent of Washington County Schools claiming that reasonable students would view the baptism as endorsed by the school. As a result, the organization argues that the District should take the steps necessary to make sure there are no more religious rituals during school-sponsored activities. The school’s superintendent, however, claims that he fully investigated the matter and found no cases of wrongdoing. As part of his argument, the superintendent claims that he signed off on the baptisms and that players were not required to attend. The coach is also claimed to have not been directly involved in the baptisms, which took place in the middle of a memorable season for the football team. The superintendent also argues that the First Amendment does not convert all public schools into a religion-free zone.

The Fundamental Clause and School Baptisms

Students are permitted to pray in public school as well as gather together for prayer and form religious groups. This is true regardless of the students’ religious beliefs. As soon as teachers or school employees become involved in these activities, however, challenges arise. The United States Department of Education has commented that school employees are prohibited from becoming involved in their official capacities as representatives of the state under the Establishment Clause. 

Teachers and staff, however, are frequently requested to attend student meetings as a result of insurance policies. If a club is religious, a school worker is permitted to be present but only in a monitor position. Supervision in this way does not constitute either an endorsement or sponsorship of the religious activity by the school. If the coach in this example was not actively baptizing students and only present at the baptism in a supervisory position, a court would likely then analyze the role held by the priests who conducted the baptisms.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

The Constitution articulates the required separation between church and state in this country, but each year there are still many cases that test the exact nature of this boundary. The Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on describing these developments in a way that examines both sides of these arguments as well as the controlling law.

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