The Freedom From Religion Foundation, described as "a national state-church watchdog." said it has contacted the Walker County Schools "over complaints it has received about proselytizing by a high school coach at Ridgeland High School."
In a Tuesday letter, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines to investigate complaints over practices by Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis.
According to FFRF’s local complainant, "Ridgeland, like Soddy Daisy and UTC, conducts prayers at school football games, in this case often organized or led by Mariakis."
“It is illegal for a public school athletic coach to lead a team in prayer,” wrote attorney Seidel, citing numerous legal cases including Supreme Court decisions.
Coach Mariakis "is accused by the complainant of shuttling players to different churches for pre-game meals and at these events the church’s preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion. Mariakis has stated publicly that the program 'opens the door for some of the kids' and is 'a way of meeting the need of the churches.' Ministers will 'bless the food' and according to one church, 'presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ' to the players."
Attorney Seidel called this practice "an egregious violation which must cease immediately."
FFRF said it is also "calling attention to allegations that Mariakis uses Bible verses as motivational tools and places pressure on players to attend a religious football camp."
Attorney Seidel wrote, “Even if Mariakis is simply suggesting attendance, his position as head coach in charge of playing time, impregnates any suggestion with force. Playing time leads to scholarships and college; it should be a question of merit only, not religion.”
FFRF "warned the superintendent that the coach endangers federal funding if, as contended, he uses of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as 'a platform and a vehicle that allows us to share Christ with the kids.' FCA is a student club and by law public employee involvement is strictly non-participatory."