A school district in Georgia is investigating an incident of mass baptisms that took place during football practice on school premises. The incident stirred controversy after a video, taken by First Baptist Villa Rica during the baptisms, was posted on the church’s YouTube channel.
“We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption under the video read.
However, when the media initially attempted to contact church officials, they were told that the pastor heading the baptisms was not available for comments.
Obviously, the video was removed from the channel soon after but Carroll County School District released an official statement, saying that it would look into the specifics of the incident and take necessary steps to make sure no state or federal laws have been violated.
“The Carroll County School System was made aware of a situation that took place at Villa Rica High School prior to football practice on August 17th,” the statement read. “The District is currently looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint to the school district, asking the administration to immediately investigate the incident and take necessary actions to ensure such situations do not arise in the future. While asserting that such matters should be resolved cooperatively, FFRF requested details of all the steps that the school district has taken to comply with the First Amendment of the American Constitution.
“I can’t remember another case like this,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the foundation. “It’s really misusing the authority of the coach to promote his personal religious agenda.”
As Georgia continues to be a hotbed for such cases, those involved with the mass baptisms were not afraid to flaunt their service. Villa Rica Touchdown Club posted the video to its Facebook page, asking everyone to share it so it goes ‘viral’.
“Starting this video out, they call it a step of obedience, and then the camera pans to the students,” said Gaylor. “It’s forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team. How are they going to cross their coach? They have no choice. It’s proselytizing, it’s coercive, and it’s not legal in our schools.”
On September 4, Pastor Kevin Williams, who had presided over the mass baptisms, told the media that the ritual had been carried out lawfully as he received instructions from coaches on how to proceed with the service.
“It can't be during school, and it can't be at a practice,” he said. “It has to be independent, and it has to be voluntary for the kids. Everybody involved knew that, and we thought we were doing what we needed to do.”
The city of Villa Rica’s population has tripled since 2000 with the Villa Rica High School catering to approximately 1,500 students.
Photo Credits: Gameday