The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is calling on the Etowah County Schools District to stop allowing churches to proselytize to students in exchange for food and water.
According to a letter sent to the FFRF by a “concerned community member,” the Southside Wrestling Team is asking churches to donate snacks and water to the players in exchange for allowing the churches to “pour into” the students.
The wrestling team includes students from Southside High School and Rainbow Middle School, located within the Etowah County School District. The letter from the wrestling team to local churches reads in its entirety here:
“We know our churches play a vital role in this community. We are looking for some area churches to connect with our Southside Wrestling team in a very tangible way. During our wrestling season, we supply our wrestlers with water and granola bars. We are asking local churches to consider donating 6 cases of water and 4 packs of 24 granola bars to help out our team. Of course, we can always use more, but this is a good starting point and will help us greatly. Some other donation ideas are sports drinks, Uncrustables, and trail mix. Every donation helps! This year we have close to 50 wrestlers on our team from Rainbow Middle School and Southside High School. We are looking forward to a great season. We would like to give the churches, who are able to donate, a chance to speak into the lives of the students on our team by sharing a short 15-minute devotional. We are very excited about this opportunity again this year. We really enjoyed it last year. We look forward to connecting with you in this way. If this is something you are interested in, please contact one of our coaches to arrange a time to drop off your donation and set up a time to share with the team.”
FFRF is demanding that the school district cease giving local churches access to students for proselytization. FFRF attorney Chris Line even wrote a letter to Etowah County Schools Superintendent Alan Cosby.
“Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools,” the letter reads. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion. By explicitly inviting churches to proselytize to students, the district displays clear favoritism for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above other faiths.”
The FFRF cites the 1992 Supreme Court case, Lee v. Weisman, as added evidence to suggest the actions of the wrestling team coaches are unconstitutional. In that case, the court ruled that religious activities were prohibited at all school functions.
Due to the ongoing Christmas holidays, it is unclear what the response is from the Etowah County School District.