A Georgia high school football coach recently bulldozed through the line separating church and state in public schools, a disappointing but not surprising occurrence in 2015. What’s aggravating about the incident is that it has become the latest evidence of a mythical war on Christianity.
One of the assistant coaches at Villa Rica High School decided in August it would be a good idea to have his baptism on the football field between the end of school and the start of practice and to invite the team to join him. As a result, 18 players and the coach were baptized by First Baptist Church of Villa Rica Pastor Kevin Williams while cheerleaders and community members rooted them on.
We’re all for teenagers finding and committing to faith. We don’t have a problem with students organizing faith-based clubs and meeting on school property before school, after school or during lunch to talk about religion and religious culture. We’ve celebrated such clubs for Jewish students.
But it’s amazing that any school employee would fail to recognize the difference between off-hours, student-led religious or cultural clubs and a mass religious ceremony organized by a man who is paid by the taxpayers and holds a position of authority over a large group of students.
It’s absurd to defend this event as voluntary. The coach is in a coercive position with his players, who depend on his good graces for playing time and other favors. Teens also are subject to severe peer pressure, and a mass baptism makes the pressure as public as possible. In addition, it’s a violation of parental rights for any student younger than 18 to be allowed to participate in such a religious event without permission.
When the Carroll County school system finishes its investigation, the football coach should be suspended if not fired. He’ll then have plenty of free time to practice his faith.
Unfortunately, many people will rally around the coach if he is punished, as they already have during Villa Rica football games. Demonstrations have made the dominant view in the community clear: The baptism was a beautiful thing. If the courts think otherwise, well, the coach, pastor and others answer to a higher authority.
To those in Georgia’s Protestant majority who have convinced themselves they are being persecuted, any negative response to the baptism is evidence, joining the supposed war on Christmas and the rare prosecutions of business owners who want to exercise their G-d-given right to discriminate.
We don’t know why people feel a need to see themselves as victims. But here’s some guidance:
A 17-year-old wearing a kippah while waiting for public transit with a few friends is beaten into a coma by three strangers simply for being Jewish, as happened Sept. 5 in Manchester, England. That’s religion-based discrimination and hatred.
A coach and 18 teen players participate in a foundational religious ceremony on school property, and not only does no one think to stop them, but scores of people cheer them on. Even if the school system later tells them they shouldn’t have done that and shouldn’t do it again, they aren’t being oppressed. And they can always participate in the inevitable super massive baptism on church property in the weeks ahead.