A Christian football coach at a Georgia high school has been sacked from coaching for allegedly holding a baptism on school grounds where 20 players professed faith in Christ.
The firing comes after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the school, complaining that an unnamed “concerned community member,” objected to the baptisms.
“The district must refrain from infusing its football program with religion, and coach [Isaac] Ferrell cannot be allowed to preach to student athletes or allow a local pastor to preach to and baptize students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Tattnall County School District Superintendent Kristen Waters.
Farrell coached at Tattnall County High School.
Waters claims that the firing had nothing to do with the baptisms.
In fact, after the baptisms, Ferrell was simply relieved of his duties as a coach over an incident that happened while the team was traveling, said a statement by the district, according to local WSB-TV News 2.
The former coach remains a teacher with the school, the statement also said.
When asked to comment on the firing, one member of the Tattnall County School Board said he’d have to defer to the statement by the district.
“I can’t really comment, because it’s an ongoing investigation. I have to go by the statement that we’ve already released as it relates to that. I don’t want to comment as it’s continuing to be an ongoing matter,” board member Shawn Sikes told The Lion.
When asked if Ferrell’s being relieved of his football duties was directly related to the FFRF letter, Sikes refused to say and hung up.
Attempts by The Lion to contact the remaining board members and Superintendent Waters regarding the basis of the investigation went unanswered as of publication.
If atheists, school administrators and board members were upset by the actions of the coach, quite a few others were supportive.
The video shows players climbing into a portable plastic tub generally reserved for soaking athletes for physical therapy, and being baptized by immersion.
Latifa Johnson, whose son is a sophomore on the football team, expressed pride that her son chose to get baptized.
“I was extremely proud of him because he made the decision on his own. I didn’t have to hold his hand, and he did it because he wanted to do it,” Johnson told WSAV News 3.
She told the local station that she found out about the baptisms from a Facebook post from the football team.
“It was so sweet because you see the boys and they looked like they wanted it,” said Johnson. “You know, like everyone looked excited, from the ones I was able to see. So was cheering, ‘Thank you, God.’ Yes, yes, yes. I was all for it.”
Bobbie Highsmith, of Waynesville, Georgia, also praised the coach for his decision.
“That coach is changing lives.. not just winning games!” Highsmith wrote in a comment on the Facebook video of the baptisms.
Most of the comments from Facebook were positive, with a few dissensions.
“Separation of church and state exist [sic] for a reason. You took advantage of your position of power over these kids. I can’t wait to see the Freedom From Religion Foundation take action against you,” wrote one commenter.
In 2020, 74% of Tattnall County voters voted for the Republican presidential candidate.
Based on demographic data, it is likely a good proportion of those voters will want to see the district’s punishment of the coach reversed.