A Georgia high school football coach is reveling in God’s victory this week after an atheist group’s quest to ban him and his coaching staff from praying with players and students has inadvertently led to a much different reaction.
In October, the Freedom From Religion Foundation pursued East Coweta High School’s head football coach, John Small, issuing a ban that prevented him from invoking God, prayer or any form of faith with his players.
FFRF brought forth the ban after a member of the community reportedly filmed Small praying with players and filed a complaint with the organization last month.
“FFRF sent a letter to the Coweta County School System warning that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to further personal religious beliefs by leading their teams in prayer,” the group stated in a press release. “Coach-led prayers, FFRF points out, equate to a government advancement and endorsement of religion—a stark violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The atheist group’s plan quickly backfired though.
Rather than putting an end to prayer, they instead provoked hundreds of students to respond by rallying in prayer.
“Our students have done a great job and our students took it upon themselves to organize a prayer with our students in the stands before the game,” Small told The Christian Post. “Instead of it being 100 players praying, it turned into 400 students praying. That’s their right and we are going to support them in that.”
Ultimately, Small says the ban is not a battle of flesh, but a battle against “principles of darkness,” which Paul warns us of in Ephesians 6:12.
His claim is echoed by Rob Brass, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes director in the southwest metro Atlanta region, who is working with the school’s FCA affiliates to host a community prayer rally on Thursday night.
“As coach said, this is a spiritual war,” Brass said in a statement. “The first thing we are called to do is to pray. With all the misinformation and misunderstandings out there, we want to pull our community together in unity to pray for what’s going on here. We don’t like coaches not being able to pray with their players. That is clear. But if that is the way that it has to be, what it does is it forces, in some ways, our kids to step into that leadership role and take the movement of Christ and carry that banner forward themselves. Part of the beauty of this whole thing is that the kids are stepping up and leading.”
As for Small, the battle has already been won. He could not be more proud of what his students and players have accomplished.
“I think what happened with this organization [FFRF], whatever their intent was, you tell teenagers they can’t do something, surely they are going to do it,” he said. “It has really turned into a positive because at the end of the day, we are trying to teach students about leadership and they should be the ones taking the charge on it anyway.”