A character coach will continue his volunteer role but will no longer lead students in prayer following a complaint made about prayer before Dawson County High School football games, according to Dawson County Schools. Students will continue gathering voluntarily to express their beliefs and any prayers at the school will be student led.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization, on Sept. 21 requested the school system investigate a resident’s complaint about Russell Davis, who was featured on the Dawson County High School football team website as “football character coach.” Monday evening, his title simply read “volunteer.”
A video posted by a parent on Facebook Sept. 7 shows Davis, a pastor at Etowah Church, leading the Dawson County Tigers and children from a local parks and recreation football team in prayer in the high school locker room before a game against the West Hall Spartans.
The video had received more than 68,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon.
Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs said Monday afternoon that the school system was made aware that a letter on behalf of the foundation was sent to the attorney for the district.
After “reviewing the information provided and conversations with appropriate school officials, the district is committed to following the parameters set forth in the First Amendment, and the court decisions interpreting the First Amendment, relating to both the establishment of religion and student’s rights to exercise their freedom of religion," Gibbs said in an email. "We believe that our coaches have an understanding of those guidelines and will abide by them.”
The press release from the foundation stated that “schools cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for students, or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief, because public schools may not advance or promote religion.”
After news broke Friday about the complaint, the team prayed without coaches shortly before the Sept. 21 home football match against visiting rival Lumpkin County.
The foundation requested Dawson County Schools investigate the complaint and take action to ensure that its football program is “no longer allowing religious leaders access to its students or violating students’ rights by promoting religion in their school,” the press release reads.