When the Supreme Court ruled that a public high school football coach was allowed to pray silently after games (even though he was actually showboating at midfield for effect), the question in the minds of many church/state separation advocates was how far other coaches would stretch that decision. How would they subvert the new rules so that they could keep converting kids to Christianity?
In the case of Sherman Holt, the new head football coach at Swain High School in Bryson City, North Carolina, the answer isn’t even subtle. He’s just doing it right out in the open, practically daring people to stop him. According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, there’s ample evidence that Holt is coercively pushing Jesus on his players.
For example, there’s his tweet bragging about kids who converted to Christianity:
That says the group prayer took place at a camp hosted by “FCA,” or Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and if this was indeed a private Christian camp the kids attended on their own, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But FFRF says Holt “organized an official team trip” to that FCA camp.
It’s the sort of thing Christians can get away with but non-Christians never could. It’s blatantly coercive, in part because Holt is a new coach. That means there’s even more pressure on the players to get on his good side because they can’t rely on past relationships or bonding experiences.
There’s more: Holt is currently running a football camp that includes church services and baptisms in the stadium. We know that because it’s all literally listed in the itinerary. (That’s how ignorant or confident they are when it comes to breaking the law to promote Christianity.) There’s also video of the baptisms.
Comparing Holt’s actions to those in the Bremerton case, FFRF says this is far beyond the legal limit, even with this ultra-conservative Supreme Court:
… Here, rather than praying privately after games, Coach Holt has transformed his football program into a religious ministry, including a “team chaplain,” religious team events, team church services, and team baptisms on school property. The religious coercion occurring within the district’s football program is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians or do not subscribe to any religion, FFRF stresses.
“Coaches cannot be permitted to engage in such blatantly sectarian religious behavior,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s highly discriminatory toward all those members of the school district who don’t share that particular belief system.”
FFRF is asking the district to investigate the matter and put an immediate stop to it. They’ve also requested records relating to any communications to or from Holt “regarding prayer, religion, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a team chaplain or religious leaders meeting with the team, team baptisms, or church services.”
None of this should be happening—and it wouldn’t if the district hired a coach who was more interested in helping students than building up his own religious résumé. Instead, Holt is more focused on pushing his faith on kids than building up their football skills.
There’s no place for that in any public high school.