GAINESVILLE, Ga. -- The controversial issue of prayer is playing out on a local high school football field.
The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter on Tuesday to school officials in Hall County objecting to what it calls "the unconstitutional infusion of religion into the high school football program."
The letter alleges that football coaches at Chestatee High School have led and participated in regular prayers with students. It also claims that official team documents, workout sheets and banners feature Biblical references. The group claims that those actions violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
"When a teacher or coach leads or participates in prayer with students, the prayers become sponsored by the school," said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a news release. "The cases make clear that public schools must not even give the appearance of taking a position on religious belief, yet in this program we see ongoing biblical verses and references to religion. This evidences a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of all students."
The group is demanding that the football team's coaches stop leading and taking part in team prayers. It also asks the school to remove Biblical references from team documents and other materials.
The school has launched an investigation into the allegations.
Dozens of students joined hands in a prayer circle on Wednesday morning to show support for the team.
Congressman Doug Collins, who represents the 9th district, issued a statement on Wednesday supporting the school.
"The liberal atheist interest groups trying to bully Chestatee High School kids say they have reason to believe that expressions of religious freedom are 'not an isolated event' in Northeast Georgia," Collins said in the statement. "They're right. In Hall County and throughout Georgia's 9th district, we understand and respect the Constitution and cherish our right to worship in our own way."