ATLANTA (WXIA) – The Carroll County School District is investigating claims that the Villa Rica High School football team held a mass baptism on school grounds.
The story has spurred quite a reaction and debate. The story received thousands of comments, likes and shares on 11Alive's Facebook page and brought up questions about what specifically is allowed in terms of religious acts on school grounds. It also brought up more examples of football players on local football fields getting baptized.
When video surfaced of the Villa Rica football team, the head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said "I can't remember another case like this…"
But other cases like this are online and on video.
Tweets from players at River Ridge High School in Woodstock from earlier this year show players getting baptized under the bleachers.
Another online video has existed for more than three years, showing the Peachtree Ridge High School football team doing a baptism by field – first the players – then "the unexpected" – the coach.
We wanted a definitive answer – what is and what is not allowed? Emory University Law Professor Mark Goldfeder spoke with us, and we consulted two scholarly papers on the subject – one from the Center for Law and Religious Freedom and a second by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. All sides agreed on the basics.
Students can pray in school, gather together for prayer, and form religious groups, regardless of religious belief or affiliation. But the minute a school employee gets involved on school grounds, it's trouble.
The exact words from the US Department of Education:
"When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students."
None of the churches, coaches, or districts we reached out to on this subject would comment on Wednesday.