A Christian man who was the head football coach at an American high school in Georgia, has been fired after allowing a pastor to baptise 20 members of the team at their publicly-funded school.
Isaac Ferrell was sacked by school district officials at Tattnall County High School Coach who stated, “the safety and security of our students is paramount".
Ferrell’s dismissal, which has sparked outrage, came after a letter from an atheist organisation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based on the other side of America. They heard about the event and decided to object.
A montage, posted online by Tattnall County Football, shows a group of people outdoors around a small metal bath filled with water, near the school playing fields. A series of team members are seen stepping into the tub and then sitting with their legs over the side. A local pastor standing next to the tub can be heard saying to each one, “I baptise you now, my brother, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, before briefly lowering the occupant’s head underwater.
The video, lasting less than two minutes, was posted on social media with the words:
“Yesterday after practice Coach Ferrell gave the guys the opportunity to be baptized by Pastor Few. 20 young men made the decision to go #ALLIN with Christ!! Show them some support. #BiggerThanFootball.”
Parents of those who were baptised spoke out in support Coach Ferrell’s decision to host the event. Latifa Johnson, mother of one of the boys on the team, spoke to cable news channel WSAV, and said of her son: "I was extremely proud of him because he made the decision on his own. I didn't have to hold his hand, and he did it because he wanted to do it,"
"It was so sweet because you see the boys and they looked like they wanted it. … You know, like everyone looked excited, from the ones I was able to see. So was cheering thank you, God. Yes, yes, yes. I was all for it."
But word of the event reached a group in Wisconsin, over 1,000 miles away, who complained to the school district accusing Ferrell of ‘abusing his position’ by inviting the pastor.
Staff attorney Christopher Line demanded that they “ensure that this school-sponsored religious coercion ends immediately."
America’s constitution protects the right to ‘freedom of religion’ under what is known as the First Amendment, but the country also enforces a strict separation between church and state.
It’s not clear how much the baptisms themselves, on 23rd October, contributed to Coach Ferrell’s dismissal. A statement from the school district refers to an investigation into an incident after another football game, on 3rd November, and said it had “decided that it would seek a Head football coach that aligned with the best interests of the students of Tattnall County for the 2024-2025 school year.”
Ferrell has not yet responded to requests from US media for a comment. One of the team told WSAV he was “heartbroken”, saying the coach’s faith “made him a good role model”.