A concerned Animas Public Schools community member reported to FFRF that the head coach of the Animas High School boys basketball team was promoting religion to his team. Before a playoff game on Feb. 27, the coach had his players wear T-shirts that said, “I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me.” The coach was also reportedly holding bible studies with players. It is a violation of the Establishment Clause for coaches to organize a bible study or endorse a religious message to students, FFRF had informed the school district.
“Federal courts have ruled public school coaches and athletic personnel must not promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Loren Cushman. The Foundation asked school officials to note that it did not matter whether some players asked the coach to lead a bible study or whether wearing the religious T-shirts was optional, since courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation. The state/church watchdog requested that Animas Public Schools initiate an investigation. Animas Public Schools officials responded to FFRF’s call with swiftness and resolve. Superintendent Cushman acknowledged in his response that FFRF’s concerns were real. He informed the Foundation that the coach in question had resigned. And he added, “We will address each of the areas of concern during our staff in-service training at the start of the next school year.” FFRF is pleasantly surprised by the pace of school officials in dealing with the situation. “We’re pleased that the Animas school system took us seriously in remedying a constitutional violation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Such behavior cannot be excused in public schools.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a local chapter in New Mexico. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.