Religious freedom group targets Ga. high school coach

A Georgia high school football coach is being targeted for his team’s religious practices by a non-profit organization that aims to protect the separation between state and church.
The Freedom From Region Foundation sent a complaint to Walker County Schools Tuesday, accusing Ridgeland High School coach Mark Mariakis of multiple violations of the First Amendment.
The allegations against Mariakis include:
–Holding pre-game meals at a local church, where a “preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion.”
–Pressuring players to attend a “Christian football camp that the players have pay for.”
–Leading pre- and post-game prayers.
–Using bible verses on team gear and in motivational speeches.
–Taking the team to a Mormon church and making fun on the religion after the visit within the proximity of Mormon players.
The FFRH concludes the complaint by requesting Walker Count Schools investigate and take action to stop the violations.
Emails to Mariakis, Ridgeland principal Glen Brown and Walker County superintendant Damon Raines were not immediately returned. Walker County Schools confirmed reception of the complaint to Chattanooga, Tenn., TV station WRCB.
Mariakis, who reportedly survived brain cancer in 2008-2009, is entering his ninth season at Ridgeland. He is 52-36. The Panthers open their season Friday at No. 1 Calhoun.

By David Purdum / For the AJC

A Georgia high school football coach is being targeted for his team’s religious practices by a non-profit organization that aims to protect the separation between state and church.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a complaint to Walker County Schools Tuesday, accusing Ridgeland High School coach Mark Mariakis of multiple violations of the First Amendment.

The allegations against Mariakis include:

–Holding pre-game meals at a local church, where a “preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion.”

–Pressuring players to attend a Christian football camp that the players must pay for.

–Leading pre- and post-game prayers.

–Using bible verses on team gear and in motivational speeches.

–Taking the team to a Mormon church and afterwards making fun on the religion within the proximity of Mormon players.

The FFRH concludes the complaint by requesting Walker County Schools investigate and take immediate action to stop the violations. Read the entire complaint here.

Emails to Mariakis, Ridgeland principal Glen Brown and Walker County superintendent Damon Raines were not immediately returned. Walker County Schools confirmed reception of the complaint in released statement.

Mariakis, who survived brain cancer in 2008-2009, is entering his ninth season at Ridgeland. He is 52-36. The Panthers open their season Friday at No. 1 Calhoun.

Update: A Facebook page titled “Support Coach Mariakis” has been created and had nearly 1,400 likes as of Thursday afternoon.

Update: Walker County Schools Superintendent Danny Raines is attending a conference in Macon and will be out of the office until Monday, according to office administrator Janet Cobb. No other comment on the complaint against Mariakis is expected to be released today.

A message left on Mariakis’ cell phone Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.

241 comments Add your comment

sportsnut

August 23rd, 2012
10:37 am

This should not be an issue. It is time for people to stop trying to change us. When I was in school we had pregame prayers on a weekly basis and it never hurt anyone. We need more God in this world anyway.

Jammer

August 23rd, 2012
11:04 am

Agreed Sportsnut
I can remember when the powers that be in Fulton County Stoped all pre game invocations from the announcers. We as a team ran through the banner and all took a knee on the 50, and recited the lords prayer. The response from the crowd was to recite it with us. Another thing that that team did was offer an open invitation to the players to attend the various churches other players attended. Looking back we didn’t think anything of it, but ofcource in this day and time someone would get there panties in a wad and complain.
Oh yeah, we were a Public High School in East Point, which is now been consolidated into Tri-Cities

saldiven

August 23rd, 2012
11:09 am

Wow, they really call themselves the “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” That’s totally jumping the shark.

BigDave

August 23rd, 2012
11:16 am

I’m sick of Atheists trying to take Christianity out of all public life! I bet they wouldn’t try that if it were the Muslim religion

Ahmed

August 23rd, 2012
11:28 am

so when I become HC of a football team and start preaching about Islam and having pregame meals at the local mosque, y’all will be cool with that? didnt think so.

maybe football should be about football and not a couple peoples’ idea of religion.

John

August 23rd, 2012
11:28 am

So, are those of you responding saying we should teach children to disregard the Constitution and diobey the law?

anon1

August 23rd, 2012
11:29 am

Someone on the team is uncomfortable with the religious pressure from the coach. (Maybe more than one kid) They aren’t necessarily atheists, they might just have their own religious views. That’s what freedom of religion means.

Jim Mora, Sr

August 23rd, 2012
11:42 am

Separation of chuch and state was originally designed to keep government out of church. Our liberal courts have changed this, and most Americans don’t realize this. Hope ther school system sticks up for the coach. Ifr this were an Islam issue, they wouldn’t challenge it- not politically correct. It’s only okay to offend Chriastians, nobody else.

God Loves Football

August 23rd, 2012
11:42 am

Sometimes God’s attention gets diverted by football. He was undecided which team to pull for during the Alabama vs Auburn and a 7.5 eartquake errupted killing thousands with tidal waves. Sometimes on Sunday NASCAR events he’ll drop debris on the track to bunch ‘em up on a restart.

Enemas for Easter

August 23rd, 2012
11:47 am

John
August 23rd, 2012
11:28 am

So, are those of you responding saying we should teach children to disregard the Constitution and diobey the law?

=====================================================================

No….We should teach children how to spell. WTF is diobey?

John

August 23rd, 2012
11:49 am

I do know how to spell “disobey” but typos occur. At least I didn’t have to resort to a shprthand obscenity.

John

August 23rd, 2012
11:49 am

Truth Speaker

August 23rd, 2012
11:55 am

Jim Mora, Sr., you could not be more wrong about the purpose of separation of church and state. Go back and review your history.

I am glad that this is being addressed. Open prayer has no place in public schools unless you allow other religions as well. Of course, see what happens if a Jewish, Hindu or, god forbid, Muslim prayer is used.

The FFRH needs to take a look at Calhoun as well.

tom davis

August 23rd, 2012
12:08 pm

Football is violence, competition, money, ego. Don’t tell me any of that has anything to do with God.

Remarkable

August 23rd, 2012
12:18 pm

This is NOT a religious group. It is an Anti-Religious Group! Here is what the Constitution of the United States actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Congress cannot make a law that establishes a religion or prohibits the free exercise of religion. It sounds pretty plain to me. It’s the courts that think they can order a community to do what they want with respect to how we practice or don’t practice our faith.
The community should be the one to make this call, not the courts.

Moobs Johnson

August 23rd, 2012
12:20 pm

A church handing out free food to a football team = illegal.
A church handing out free condoms = legal

These are some messed up times, seems like American society is circling around the toilet bowl on it’s way down.

KINGDAWG

August 23rd, 2012
12:21 pm

Tip of the Day…please proof your comments before you hit send

Bill

August 23rd, 2012
12:21 pm

What a joke, the minority is now trying to rule the majority. It’s time all Christians forget the PC stuff and start standing up for our rights. If a kid, parents, friends, etc., don’t like how the team is being handled it is their right to not attend, not participate or leave if something offends them. It is the rights of those who believe in how the coach is handling his team to remain true to their beliefs and honor their faith. We are Americans and all have rights, the right to believe and make a choice. If you don’t like it then walk away, I’m sure nobody would care.

Lady Bugg

August 23rd, 2012
12:29 pm

I feel Like if the schools that are christian based can have a prayer before there games them why can the other schools not hold prayer and then the children that wish to not be in the prayer should be allowed to leave the group I feel like ridgeland head coach has done a really good job with those boys and i support him 100% not only has he turned then in good young men he has also let some to really good collage and to get a good education for there self.

Good Grief

August 23rd, 2012
12:30 pm

Thomas Jefferson essentially coined the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter ot the Danbury Baptist Association, after the Danbury Baptists expressed concern over their state’s constitution lacking defined provision for religious liberty. i am of the belief that this “wall of separation” was not meant to only keep religion out of government, but to also keep government out of religion. As Jefferson wrote, a man’s “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God.”

Some atheist groups, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, seem to believe that “separation of church and state” means that religion will never be mentioned at all in the public sphere. Some of them believe that a person simply praying in public is a violation of “separation of church and state,” which isn’t in the Constitution. Apparently, if I pray in public, that’s the same as me using force to make someone else pray.

i have to disagree with Truth Speaker @ 11:55 and the comment “open prayer has no place in public schools.” You can’t stop prayer. Or are you going to monitor every student, and if one of them so much as bows their head at lunch are you going to expel them? It seems like it’s always Christians being charged with these issues. You never hear about Muslims, or Mormons, or Hindus doing this, although in a country of 300+ million, you’ve got to think someone somewhere is doing it.

Vision From Afar

August 23rd, 2012
12:35 pm

Remarkable: Congress cannot make a law that establishes a religion or prohibits the free exercise of religion. It sounds pretty plain to me.

True, but you completely ignore the 14th Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”, and schools are run by the State, so any actions taken by a school official have de facto state backing. What this coach is doing is, in fact, illegal.

Bill:
Why is, “If you don’t like it, get out!” always the response to issues like this? No one is stopping the coach from praying on his own, or the students for that matter. The Supreme Court decided nearly a decade ago that school officials cannot lead or direct prayer among students, as that is an overt privileging of one religion. Besides, how can you honestly stand up for a man who drags kids to a church only so they can make fun of that religion? It’s deplorable, and he deserves to be severely reprimanded for it.

History

August 23rd, 2012
12:37 pm

Ah religion, creating conflict since the dawn of time. All one needs to do is read through these comments to see people’s true nature. Total shame how everyone uses it as an “us versus them” type of thing, really don’t think this attitude is what any religion really wants at its core.

Chaos

August 23rd, 2012
12:43 pm

Since we have banned the God of Christianity from the public arena, including public schools, how has that worked out for us as a nation?…our nation has become a moral disaster.

WD

August 23rd, 2012
12:43 pm

I am as conservative Christian as you can get,but I hold a different view than most of my fellow believers. I happen to think that religous practices have no place in the school system. That’s what we have our churches and family for. I don’t worry about the effect it will have on other kids, because in my mind, I know it can only benifit them. What I do know is that the same constitution that would allow you the right to bear witness of your religious beliefs in the public school system, would give that same right to someone of another religious belief. I do not want to have to de-program my kids or worry about the fact that they have someone of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu faith etc influencing them while they are in school.They would have that right and there would be nothing you could do about it. If you want prayer in school, send them to a private Christian school. That’s what we do.

atlpaddy

August 23rd, 2012
12:46 pm

If you are a Christian and want to pray, no one has a problem with you taking the time to say a silent prayer. The problem is when there is social pressure to join in prayers, or inviting religious leaders to speak at public, taxpayer funded school functions. No one is taking Coach Mark Mariakis’ religious liberty away. It’s a two-way street, if he doesn’t like it and can’t control his actions, then maybe he can go coach at a private school.

Also, Jesus told the religious showboaters to not pray in public anyway. Prayer should be an individual act. For those Christians who aren’t familiar with this bible passage, here it is:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret….”

Matthew 6:5-6

atlpaddy

August 23rd, 2012
12:50 pm

Maybe Christians should take the time to read what Jesus thought of the subject (notice I said Jesus, not the Old Testament or the disciples). Just substitute “synagogues” with public schools and “corners of streets” with football fields:

Matthew 6:5-6: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret….”

atlpaddy

August 23rd, 2012
12:50 pm

sorry about the double post

[...] strife, not “Obama is making me give condoms to nuns” or “My coach made me eat a pre-game meal in a church.”) Initially, there were reports of retaliatory violence on the part of Christians in [...]

Joe

August 23rd, 2012
12:53 pm

Wake up! The minority has been ruling the majority for decades and christians are in for a rude awakening. The non religious are the fastest growing segment of the population and have grown from a mere 6% to 16% of Americans in the last decade or so. As a denomination we rank second, only to catholics and in another 30 years we will be upwards of 40% of total population. The FFRF files or fights around 2000 cases like these each year and they win 90% of their cases and their total membership is less than 20,000. Imagine what you’ll be facing when their size triples and quadruples. They don’t fight against God, they fight against the little gods of the various religions which have appointed themselves as spokesmen for the Creator, without a shred of evidence and based on an ancient book of fables, folklore, myths and legends. Good Luck.

Hummon

August 23rd, 2012
12:56 pm

Christianity has not be removed from schools. Students may pray, students may carry and read from Bibles, FCA chapters are welcome.

If the complaint in this case is true, then this is a coach employed by the state subjecting a captive audience to religious indoctrination as part of school functions. That is a violation of the establishment clause. He has crossed the line. This one is easy.

Hankie Aron

August 23rd, 2012
1:01 pm

Joe- You’re right. This country has turned it’s back on God. Slowly through legislation, political correctness, and through atheist organizations like FFRF which have it all wrong. That book of ‘fables and folklore” predicted that people would turn further from God in the last days. I hope you open a Bible up one day and realize the second coming of the Lord is a real thing and maybe not far off. I should pray for you.

dilberth

August 23rd, 2012
1:04 pm

The Walker County school district and Ridgeland high-school coach, Mark Mariakis are way over the top. Pressuring players to pay for their own indoctrination at a Christian football camp sets a bad precedent for future players. What is this, a Christian football team? And holding pre-game meals in a church while a predator preacher sermonizes about the Christian myth. I don’t think that morality and religion should be used in the same sentence in this case because the coach is void of moral conduct. He is just another Christian sinner disobeying the law.

Terrell

August 23rd, 2012
1:04 pm

WD,
Unlike you I am not a conservative Christian. I’m just a Christian.
Not everybody can afford to send their child to a private Christian school. As for everybody else that is against Christians praying during school hours where’s the protest when it comes to other beliefs. As a matter of fact if someone of another faith wanted to (i.e. Muslims) they are given set hours during the SCHOOL DAY to pray. When I played football our coaches did not lead the prayers for this very reason, but players such as myself we did lead team prayers and we were encouraged to attend church together on one or two occasions as a team.

If players feel like they are being forced then they should address the issue and then how they feel should be respected, but an outside organization shouldn’t be complaining whatsoever. Now if the thing about the Mormon church is true then that’s wrong. I don’t agree with their beliefs but I have to be aware that I don’t isolate people the way society has decided to isolate those of the Christian faith.

a little to narrow atlpaddy

August 23rd, 2012
1:05 pm

Atlpaddy,

If that was the only way to pray, then Jesus would not have prayed with the disciples on numerous occasions.

Marie

August 23rd, 2012
1:06 pm

No Christmas break-”winter break”
Don’t mention Easter
Idiots
Thank God my kids are in Catholic school.

Dilbert is a hater

August 23rd, 2012
1:08 pm

Dilbert,

You must hate your father as well.

Hankie Aron

August 23rd, 2012
1:10 pm

If you study the Constitution and history you will realize the the “separation of church and state” was NOT a wall, but simply saying that there would NOT be a “government religion” like the Church of England, where they came from. Sadly, history books do not tell you that 29 of the 56 original signers of the Declaration of Independence held seminary degrees. Also Thomas Jefferson allocated money from the federal government to witness to a tribe of Indians as well as build a church for them.

James

August 23rd, 2012
1:10 pm

There is absolutely no place for this in any state public school. If you want to send your child to a christian private school that is your option.

Terrell

August 23rd, 2012
1:11 pm

@Joe

Wow is all I can say, but you have your opinion, even if it’s far fetched it’s your opinion.

@atlpaddy
That scripture was because there were people that just wanted to be seen praying. They were praying in vain. I don’t believe that’s always the case.

God Loves Football

August 23rd, 2012
1:11 pm

Marie, God stole those holidays from the Pagans. He also invented instant replay booths.

Joe

August 23rd, 2012
1:12 pm

Yes Hankie, we have seen what the nonsense of the power of prayer has done for the country. Let’s see, the phrase “under god” was added to the pledge in 1954, and the national day of prayer was established in 1952. Since then abortions were legalized in 1973, the christian population has been in steady decline in all denominations as much as 25% in some places, churches are closing as fast as new ones are opening, and priests and ministers have been on a pedophiliac free for all. So I have to wonder what you think the power of your prayer is? With all I’ve mentioned I have to wonder what the heck you people have been praying for? Don’t waste your time praying, it’s useless.

Hankie Aron

August 23rd, 2012
1:13 pm

Every cent or dollar you ever spent has “In God We Trust” on it but hey who’s looking right?

Wrong Issue

August 23rd, 2012
1:13 pm

The real problem isn’t whether your kids can pray in the government-run school. The problem is having the government run your school. If the nanny state didn’t have its fingers down the throat of our daily lives, then the exercise of religion (and most everything else) truly would be “free.” Conformity is what you get with statism.

Good Grief

August 23rd, 2012
1:15 pm

atlpaddy – The problem with the cripture you quote is its use by non-Christians. There are people who will use that scripture to justify no public exercise of religion, regardless the intent. Christ was teaching not to be pompous or self-aggrandizing in your prayer, as the pharisees of his day were. It was not a condemnation of all public prayer, otherwise you could say that Christ himself broke hs own rule by praying in the garden and then praying on the cross, and by giving thanks and blessing bread before giving it to his disciples.

dilberth@ 1:04 – Just for clarification sake, please explain your ‘predator preacher’ terminology.

Joe

August 23rd, 2012
1:16 pm

Also Hankie, Thomas Jefferson created the Jefferson bible, which was the new testament sans the miracle myths and fairy tales. Not a very “biblical” thing to do would you say?

Terrell

August 23rd, 2012
1:16 pm

@James

Not everybody can afford to do that. So is okay that our kids become indoctrinated with the views of the world? It’s okay to teach them evolution, it’s okay to talk about safe sex and not abstinence. It’s okay for the world to force their views on our children. If a teacher tells my child there is no God it’s ok but for some reason if a teacher tells my child that Jesus loves them then we have a problem?

Angry young man

August 23rd, 2012
1:18 pm

Joe,

Your childhood must have been awful to have so much hate. You will be glad to know God has grace even for you.

Joe

August 23rd, 2012
1:18 pm

I think if you read the bible Grief the jesus character was alone in the garden praying while the apostle characters were fast asleep. He wasn’t making a public spectacle of himself.

Hankie Aron

August 23rd, 2012
1:19 pm

Joe- Prayer does have power and I’m sorry you’ve never experienced it. Again you’re right the country has went to the pot and again that is well prophesied in the Bible. I think the Chick Fil A showing on that Wednesday kind of shoots your argument down about steady decline. You do realize that 80% of the country claims to be Christian right? Next to generalize a small number of pedophile priests and ministers meaning “a free for all” is just irresponsible.

Hankie Aron

August 23rd, 2012
1:21 pm

Joe- Sadly I care about your soul more than you.