The controversy involving fired coach Isaac Ferrell dates back to October, when a Facebook post showed a pastor dunking a player in a tub, but the situation is a murky one. In a statement, the superintendent of Tattnall County Schools said Ferrell was removed as coach for a Nov. 3 incident – which was not disclosed to the public.
Tattnall County is a rural county of approximately 23,000 in Southeast Georgia. The school district has about 3,300 students in K-12.
The school district decided to seek a new head football coach “that aligned with the best interests of the students,” Superintendent Kristen Waters said in a vaguely-worded statement.
Ferrell’s removal as head coach, which came three weeks after the baptism, was steeped in more mystery after he was permitted to keep his high school teaching job.
It is also unclear if the now-fired coach organized the pastor’s appearance at the football practice, and the baptism service that followed, or simply permitted the pastor to preach to the football team.
The school district may have also been intimidated by an atheist group, Freedom from Religious Foundation, which opposes public displays of religious activity. One of its staff attorneys fired off a letter to Tattnall County Schools that called the baptism service a “constitutional violation.” It also demanded the district respond in writing how it intends to “remedy” the alleged violation.
Hiram Sasser, who is general counsel at First Liberty Institute, predictably disagrees with the atheist group. The baptism service was likely permissible on school property, he says, much like a religious event at the school hosted by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“It's not the government's responsibility to try to go and quelch the religious liberty of private citizens,” he says, referring to the visiting pastor and the football players. “That's clearly against the Constitution and not allowed.”
The letter from FFRF calls the sermon and baptism service “school-sponsored religious coercion.” The FFRF attorney alleges in the letter the pastor was “invited” by Ferrell who “allowed” him to “proselytize” the football players, referring to the pastor’s sermon or team devotional he delivered.
In his interview with AFN, Sasser agreed Ferrell’s firing is steeped in mystery and unanswered questions. The fired coach can help clear that up, the attorney says, by contacting First Liberty.
“So that we can kind of investigate this to make sure that the school district hasn't done something wrong in terms of firing him,” the attorney says.