Mixing religion and public school sports caused major controversy in Effingham County last week. A middle school physical education teacher told WTOC he resigned from his baseball coaching duties after he violated protocol allowing his middle schoolers to embroider the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 on the back of their publicly funded caps.
One parent complained to the Ebenezer Middle School principal about the hats, but it turns out the hats were not the only issue. Some thought when the coach resigned, the situation was solved.
The parent wants to make sure anyone else's religion is not pushed on her child again. What a few 8th graders thought was a home run of an idea, with an inspirational Bible verse, ended up as a strike out.
"The law is very clear on this. They can take their children to church. They can send their children to Sunday school, but it is not something that belongs in a public school," Andrew Seidel, the attorney for the parent who declined to be named, said.
Seidel is an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation which represents 19,000 people across the United States.
"Our members consider themselves free thinkers," he said. "For the most part, which is atheists or agnostics. We do have some religious members for the separation of the state and church. I, myself, consider myself an atheist."
Last week, Seidel received a call from the Effingham County parent who was upset when her son came home after his Ebenezer Middle School baseball team practice with this team hat and saw the Bible verse on the back.
"Our client was incredibly upset. Not only was she upset but she was well within her right to be upset," Seidel said.
The mother took her complaint to the middle school principal, who went to the Board of Education. The principal then spoke with the coach. Before there was any discussion of a resolution or solution, the coach told WTOC he decided to resign.
"Just so there wouldn't be any issues with someone not liking what I did," Kyle Houston, the former middle school baseball coach, told WTOC last week.
Houston said he decided to resign because he didn't follow protocol and didn't want to be a distraction for his players. He will remain as a physical education teacher at the school.
While he supported the verse, and admits he should have run the idea by the principal first, he says it was the children's idea, and voted on by the children.
"Everybody on the team said that's what they wanted to do. What I didn't do was go back to the principal, which is what I was supposed to do," Houston said.
Seidel told WTOC, it wasn't just the Bible quote on the hat, but prayers the parent says Houston was saying with the team, which also had her concerned.
"In both cases, those are unconstitutional," Seidel said.
Some of the players themselves have posted comments on Facebook saying all of the players, even the player whose mother opposed the religious verse, voted for the verse.
Seidel said his client disputes the claim, but even if it was true, it doesn't matter, because religion is not allowed in public schools. He said there are private schools for families who feel religion should be part of education and his client's goal is to make sure Effingham County's mixing of faith and public education doesn't happen again.
"Nobody is trying to take religion away from them, but on an official school uniform, that's not practicing, that's imposing your beliefs," Seidel said.
On Wednesday, Seidel began conversations with Effingham School District Superintendent Randy Shearouse, who has been out of town since the controversy erupted. Seidel is asking Shearouse, on behalf of his client and Freedom From Religion Foundation, to address guidelines and safeguards to protect separation of church and state.
Seidel says the foundation is also looking deeper into other issues involving teacher involvement in Christian youth groups at the school and church meetings held at school facilities.
Sunday, August 31 2014 3:28 PM EDT2014-08-31 19:28:29 GMT
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