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A Tennessee high school let a Christian preacher lead the basketball team in foot-washing
Pushing Jesus on public high school students is coercive, immoral, and illegal
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Here’s a quick tip for Christians who want to proselytize in public schools: When you get away with it, don’t brag about it publicly. Because even when you think all the evidence has been scrubbed from the internet, some people (*waves hello*) may have saved screenshots.
Speaking of which...
On Wednesday, Andrew Fortner, the leader of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter in Tennessee, posted about how students at White House Heritage High School (a public school) ended their practice in an unusual way.
They held a free-throw shooting contest and five players on the team “won”… the chance to wash their teammates’ feet just like Jesus. The FCA leader shared pictures and explained how he told team leaders to “chase the TOWEL over the TITLE.” Fortner also included an image of himself reading the Bible to the kids.
That post is no longer online. Fortner deleted it. But not before it was shared on TikTok by a concerned woman (who also deleted her video to avoid local backlash).
Still, it happened. And now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is getting involved. In a letter, legal fellow Samantha F. Lawrence calls on the Robertson County Schools to investigate the matter:
We ask that RCS investigate this matter and ensure that the White House Heritage HS basketball program ceases infusing the program with religion. The basketball program and its coaches cannot be permitted to invite and allow an outside adult to proselytize student athletes and require them to engage in religious activities.
… When coaches promote their personal religion to students and invite an outside adult, such as Mr. Fortner, to instruct students to act out a biblical story while reading them scripture, the student athletes will no doubt feel that agreeing with their coach’s religious viewpoint and participating in the religious activities is essential to pleasing their coach and being viewed as a team player. It is unrealistic and unconstitutional to put student athletes to the choice of allowing their constitutional rights to be violated in order to maintain good standing in the eyes of their coach and peers or openly dissenting at the risk of retaliation from their coach and teammates.
As Lawrence points out, the Supreme Court’s Kennedy decision (where a football coach wanted to pray at midfield after games despite the coercive effect) is irrelevant here. This was a direct attempt to merge church and state. There was very clearly coercion. Fortner isn’t even a coach. He’s just a random guy whose Christianity gave him access to the team.
No representative from a different religion, or an atheist, would be given the opportunity to push their beliefs on the basketball team in the name of self-described morality. And they shouldn’t be! But Christian privilege is a hell of a drug.
The coaching staff at this school had no right to invite a Christian preacher to a practice in an effort to convert children. It’s appalling that the adults involved here were so comfortable with what was happening that they allowed photos to be taken and posted online… at least until, perhaps, they realized they were doing something wrong.
Fortner did not respond to a request for comment.