A football on the field
Prayer and baptisms on high school football fields happen every year. They frequently draw the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Football season is back. For most of us, that means tailgate parties, fantasy football, and rooting for our favorite teams. But over in Greenbrier, Tennessee, that means baptisms.

In a move that's garnered some controversy, the "character coach" for the Springfield High School football team, Chad Diehl, recently baptized two players on the football field. The baptism took place in front of both their coaches and teammates. Diehl, who's also a minister at a local church, called the baptisms a blessing. And after the ceremony, coaches Dustin Wilson and Jake Buttram praised the ceremony. Buttram tweeted that the baptisms were "better than winning any game or any trophy".

The tweet that launched a cease and desist.

FFRF Steps In

However, that didn't go over well with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The national non-profit, which protects the constitutional separation of church and state, wrote Superintendent Chris Causey to demand the district cease promoting Christianity to its students.

"The involvement of a public school coach in baptisms is so over the top as to be ludicrous," wrote FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "You'd be hard-pressed to cite a display of sectarian religiosity more blatant than this."

FFRF has requested the district investigate the incident and ban all further religious events. They also demand that Diehl resigns as the team's character coach. "It is inappropriate for a public school district to proselytize students by praying with students, baptizing students, or employing an outside religious leader to organize these activities," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line. "This is especially problematic in the context of athletics, given the coercive pressure players feel to conform to coaches' expectations so as not to disappoint coaches or hurt their standing on the team."

School Says There's No Problem

The school district told local media that they reviewed the incident and determined that no wrongdoing occurred. The statement read: "The activities...were student-initiated, student-led, and occurred after the practice session had ended, and after school hours. All participation was voluntary with no requirement for attendance either stated or implied." The school was also quick to point out that Diehl is a community volunteer and not paid school staff.

School officials also questioned the complaints themselves. Superintendent Causey said they "have not received a single phone call from anyone asking us about (these baptisms). Zero. If we have concerned parents or community members, I would think they would need to contact the district office about it instead of turning to organizations that aren't even based in Tennessee."

The school district is having its attorney draft a formal response to the FFRF.

Football & Faith

School baptisms are not uncommon in this country.

In 2016, Mississippi high school football coach Ryan Smith drew controversy after he baptized one of his players. In a video of the baptism, Smith said the young man "made a decision that a man's supposed to make. He accepted Christ as his savior." And in Georgia, church officials attended a Villa Rica High School football practice and baptized 18 members of the team, including the coach. It was the second mass baptism to take place on school grounds in the state.

The baptisms at Springfield High School are just the latest in a long line of religious controversies at high schools across the country.

Those against the baptisms, like the FFRF, say that the law is clear. That a baptism led by a coach on school property is tantamount to school endorsement of religion. Whether attendance was voluntary is irrelevant.

Alternatively, those in favor of the baptisms say that they were entirely legal given that they took place after-hours, were student-led, and were not mandatory.

What do you think? Are baptisms an expression of faith that should be legally allowed on school property under certain conditions? Or should we keep God out of the public school system entirely?

20 comments

  1. Dr. Tinsley Keefe's Avatar Dr. Tinsley Keefe

    Ugh this crap is completely inappropriate...I’m atheist, and I’m tired of crap like this...I’m also certified as a principal and superintendent and have a doctoral degree in educational admin....I’m not sure if it’s illegal, per the way they did it in Tennessee....but it’s completely inappropriate for sure...

    1. Stephanie Willey's Avatar Stephanie Willey

      I'm NOT atheist and I agree that it is inappropriate, expecially in a public school setting. In a private school with religious affiliations they can mix their religious fluff with their sports all they want but NOT in a public school.

      1. Dr. Tinsley Keefe's Avatar Dr. Tinsley Keefe

        I know...I’m speaking from a legal and Constitutional perspective tho...prayer can not be staff-led, can’t be mandatory, can’t use school equipment to do it, etc., but it sounds like they are not doing that? I completely agree that baptisms have NO place there tho...ugh it’s weird in almost 2020 to still have that going on

      2. Rev. Brien's Avatar Rev. Brien

        May I ask just who was harmed in this? Look, I am no poster child for any organized religion, was there force used here? Who requested this? Who was harmed? Look I am all for a good heated debate but this just does not make the grade. Get over it.

        1. The Doctor's Avatar The Doctor

          There is a very real risk that such an open promotion of a specific faith could lead to intolerance of those of differing faiths. It might make someone of a differing faith who wanted to join the team choose not to do so out of fear.

          Almost every act of mass violence the last few years have been by those who identified as christian and spouted ideas like america is for christian white people only.

          As far as I am concerned parents who indoctrinate their children into a faith rather then teach them the value of science and history, who put devotion to god before all else are all guilty of child abuse and endangerment

    2. Don Iarussi mfa's Avatar Don Iarussi mfa

      perfectlyt appropriate, players pray toward mecca. it was on a field that the students parents pay taxes

      1. The Doctor's Avatar The Doctor

        Not even close. Any property that is Public should not be for private and what should be a personal experience. Baptisms should not be witnessed. This was clearly done to help pressure impressionable young people to fall in line with the rest of their group.

    3. G Dobson's Avatar G Dobson

      Yes, completely inappropriate. The peer pressure at those teen years is difficult to resist; you're mocked or ostracized or worse by your peers if you don't want to follow the crowd. To suggest that children that age have the mental capacity to act completely independently is ridiculous -- the "initiating students" are following their parents or community expectations, not their own. Also know that FFRF does not act on an incident unless they've received a report or complaint or request for help from an affected person.

      1. Dr. Tinsley Keefe's Avatar Dr. Tinsley Keefe

        I agree with u, hun...pls remember I’m atheist and believe in love and science ??

  1. Tom B's Avatar Tom B

    Remember; the Scopes trial took place in Tennessee...this baptism should not have taken place...Peace...Tom B

  1. Don Iarussi mfa's Avatar Don Iarussi mfa

    liberalism is a mental disorder. how is that different than getting married at halftime? praying? making the sign of the cross after a td? they all chose to do this!

  1. Donald Warren's Avatar Donald Warren

    Not the proper place for a religious ceremony. Church or down by the river etc..

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Inappropriate at any public school!

    ?❤️

    1. Tom B's Avatar Tom B

      Lionheart...Agreed...Peace...Tom B

  1. Ben's Avatar Ben

    "What do you think? Are baptisms an expression of faith that should be legally allowed on school property under certain conditions? Or should we keep God out of the public school system entirely?" As long as we can also have: Bris ceremonies, Animal Sacrifice, Rastafarian Pot smoking, peyote fueled vision quests, the Great Rite and Buddhist medititations, at the same time, on the same field, then sure ... have at it.

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      And let’s not forget Pagan skyclad (naked) rituals. I bet there would be more in attendance for those ?

      ?❤️

  1. Ed's Avatar Ed

    So, it's ok for an IDIOT to take a knee, but not this? It's also ok when that @$$ talks about the Betsy Ross flag being racist, when she was a QUAKER, and they were abolitionists!

    The so-called FFRF is nothing more than a cult, who have made anti-religion into a religion. They've taken to going after religion--mainly Christian ones--with a religious fanaticism, and every burden they want to place upon churches, should be put upon them.

    “have not received a single phone call from anyone asking us about (these baptisms). Zero. If we have concerned parents or community members, I would think they would need to contact the district office about it instead of turning to organizations that aren’t even based in Tennessee.” I'd say that sums it up.

    1. Dr. Tinsley Keefe's Avatar Dr. Tinsley Keefe

      You really think being FREE OF RELIGION is a RELIGION?? R u SERIOUS???! Wow lol....have u ever Googled the definition of religion?

  1. Greg's Avatar Greg

    If you want to get baptized, fine get baptized. But come on, do it on your own time. You don't see the local Wiccan coven holding an initiation ritual on the field, you don't see the local Muslim organization walking about in a show of religious ritual, and you never would because any other religious rite or ritual would be denied and not allowed to take place.

    Keep your religion in the church where it belongs.

  1. Secretary3rd's Avatar Secretary3rd

    So! Telling a bunch of gun toting hicks that their sons can not get baptized on a football field on school property may not be in the likes of a few it matters little until someone makes a big deal out of it. I have run into people who do not like what I say and my comment is "What you going to do about it" then "Who in the **************** are you" if that does not work. I go to my rusty pick up grab a large witches broom and proceed to sweep them off the field.

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