The second letter, delivered Aug. 27, details “Establishment Clause” violations and warns of financial liability.
The letter, from FFRF’s Andrew Seidel, also addresses a “pro-bono” offer to represent the school district as “disingenuous.” Seidel was referring to Liberty Counsel of Orlando, Fla., which sent a letter from Richard Mast on Aug. 23, offering legal representation against the FFRF.
Mast maintains that FFRF’s complaints are a series of “ridiculous” and “overreaching” assertions that “taking public school football teams to church, even for a meal, is unconstitutional.”
FFRF, a Wisconsin-based group, is alleging that Ridgeland High School football coach Mark Mariakis allowed churches to prepare meals and feed the football team, including at least one meal that included preaching; led prays with his team after games; used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts; held Christian football camps during summer break. The foundation delivered its first complaint on Aug. 21.
Seidel’s letter cites 10 court cases and the legal fees that were incurred, ranging from a $120,000 settlement in Rhea County, Tenn., in 2004, to a $1.4 million settlement against a charter school that was promoting Islam.
Liberty Counsel was listed three times in Seidel’s list of cases, two of which involved display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky. The third was an Establishment Clause challenge in which the Santa Rosa. Fla., school system was held liable and paid $265,000, according to documentation.
The Liberty Counsel response does acknowledge a Supreme Court ruling regarding prayer at games. “Public schools may not devise plans designated to perpetuate or initiate religious invocations,” Mast wrote.
Liberty Counsel’s offer of representation requires the Walker County school system to “adopt a strategy and practice consistent with Liberty Counsel’s advice and an agreement for representation is reached.”
All school system personnel are prohibited by the Establishment Clause “from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education website, and further refrain from any “attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities.”
“Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.”
Teachers may meet and conduct Bible study during lunch if they choose and may even “participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored ceremonies,” according to the overview of Constitutional principles by the Department of Education in 2003.
Mast states that “a coach in his private capacity may be present at the post-game student-lead prayer, may bow his head and otherwise be respectful according to is beliefs.”
Seidel used a Walker County Messenger article in the second complaint, which cited comments from a “Support Coach Mariakis” Facebook page. The article’s quotes regarded pre-game speeches that coach Mariakis gave and a team chaplain identified as Rocky Bradford.
“This atheist group continues to lick stamps and send frivolous letters with militant zeal designed to hurt communities because of its anti-Christian fixation,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “Nothing in the Constitution requires communities to abandon common sense and create zones hostile to religion.”
Another letter that was recently sent to superintendent Raines is from the Limited Government and Inalienable Rights Society (LGIRS), which was established in 2011 in Ringgold.
The letter, from Ringgold attorney Marshall Bandy Jr., states “The Constitution does not coerce a public employee to deny universal truth when he reports to work.”
Bandy goes on to claim that atheists hate freedom and “that secular humanists want to place us in bondage by their law.”
The local foundation has sent Mariakis an award for “his quotation of scripture in public,” one of LGIRS’s core principles.