CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolina high school football coach was ordered to stop baptizing players and leading them in prayer.
A national organization that says it promotes the constitutional separation of church and state contacted the Mooresville Graded School District last fall to request that coach Hal Capps stop the practices.
“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” Patrick Elliott, staff attorney for the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote last fall to school district attorney Kevin Donaldson.
“It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion,” Elliott wrote.
Elliott on Thursday emailed The Charlotte Observer a copy of his letter and a picture from the Twitter account of the Mooresville High School Blue Devils football team that, according to the foundation, shows Capps at a team baptism.
Superintendent Mark Edwards said Thursday that he met with Capps after the football season and ordered him not to lead students in prayers and baptisms.
Edwards said he told Capps a teacher or coach who leads students in prayer is violating the constitutional separation of church and state. “He said he understood,” Edwards told the Observer.
Edwards said the baptism in the Twitter photo happened at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in downtown Mooresville and wasn’t a team baptism. A church that some of the players belong to held the baptism, Edwards said, and those players invited Capps to be there with them. “He’s a very proud Christian,” Edwards said.
Capps wasn’t disciplined, the superintendent said, and has written players and their families that he won’t lead the team in any more prayers. Capps didn’t return a request for comment left on his cellphone by the Observer on Thursday.
The foundation wrote the district after it said it received a complaint from a parent of a Mooresville High School student “who objects to religious endorsements” by Capps. “Students have reported that Coach Capps frequently prays with football players at team events and encourages them to go to church and to become baptized,” the letter says.
Elliott said Thursday that a student subjected to a prayer by Capps could easily sue the coach and the district on grounds that his or her civil rights were violated.
Elliott said if Edwards’ talk to Capps was enough to stop the coach from leading students in prayer, “I think that would help resolve the issue going forward.”