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After promoting a mass baptism, a Georgia football coach was fired... for unrelated reasons
Isaac Ferrell isn't a victim of Christian Persecution
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A high school football coach in Georgia was fired weeks after he conducted a mass baptism for his team, but that may not have been the reason he lost his job.
Last month, an unofficial account for the Tattnall County High School football team posted a video of a pastor baptizing 20 football players after practice. The caption read “Coach [Isaac] Ferrell gave the guys the opportunity to be baptized by Pastor [Gary] Few. 20 young men made the decision to go #ALLIN with Christ!!”
It didn’t take long before the Freedom From Religion Foundation got involved. In a letter to the district dated November 1, attorney Chris Line explained the obvious: Using your position as a public school football coach to coerce kids into converting to Christianity is blatantly illegal.
“The district must refrain from infusing its football program with religion, and coach Ferrell cannot be allowed to preach to student athletes or allow a local pastor to preach to and baptize students,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to Tattnall County School District Superintendent Kristen Waters.
Student athletes have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination when participating in their public school’s athletics program. It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to invite or instruct others, such as pastors, to lead their team in prayer or other religious activities, including proselytizing and baptisms.
“Football players shouldn’t be forced to get baptized to play football,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Student athletes will feel coerced to oblige with their coach’s wishes.”
None of this should have come as a shock to the school. But Christian coaches have a habit of assuming it’s okay to shove their religion in other people’s faces in a way that would never be acceptable if we were talking about any other religion. Ferrell’s faith-based arrogance deserved a reprimand (if not a larger punishment) and a promise from the district never to let it happen again. It’s not like this was an innocent mistake. According to local news outlets, Ferrell was bragging about the baptisms after they occurred, admitting to “organizing the baptism ceremony for the boys in a post that day.” (That post has since been deleted.)
The thing about these types of incidents is that they’re, unfortunately, all too common, and history tells us there’s little incentive for coaches to change their ways. The districts often ignore the letters. Maybe they respond and say it won’t happen again. But coaches usually face no serious consequences for these kinds of mass baptisms.
Yet, this past week, Ferrell was fired.
Was it because he crossed the line when baptizing kids?
Nope. The district said it was the result of an incident that took place after a game on November 3… but offered no further explanation. They added, however, that the baptisms were unrelated to why they sacked him:
"The safety and security of our students is paramount to Tattnall County Board of Education. Based on the outcome of an investigation into an incident that occurred Friday night, November 3rd while traveling after the football game, the District decided that it would seek a Head football coach that aligned with the best interests of the students of Tattnall County for the 2024-2025 school year," read the statement issued to WSAV. "As to any other allegations, the District does not comment during ongoing investigations."
I have no idea what happened after the game, but it’s telling that the unmentioned incident was seen as more damning than the baptisms, which the district will say nothing about.
It takes a lot for a football coach to get fired. Just look at Joe Kennedy. The fact that the district still hasn’t responded to FFRF, and didn’t even treat the baptisms as a serious issue in that public statement, suggests they weren’t taking it all that seriously to begin with. Something else just forced them to make a decision.
For what it’s worth, Ferrell still has his job in the district, where he works as a “credit recovery” teacher (someone who helps students who are unable to graduate because they failed classes and need a way to make up those credits). So whatever the incident was, it couldn’t have been that bad. Just bad enough to remove him as football coach.
But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from thinking the baptisms and the firing are linked. (A Daily Mail headline falsely read, “Georgia high school football coach Isaac Ferrell is fired for holding BAPTISM on school grounds for his players.”) Gary Few, the pastor who dunked kids into water, suggested this is Christian persecution in an interview with Travis Jaudon of Connect Savannah:
Few, who is a pastor at Rehoboth Missionary Baptist Church in Claxton, spoke with Connect Savannah over the phone on Wednesday evening.
"People are going to choose to believe what they want to believe," he said. "The district and the school have said this has nothing to do with [the baptism video] and we all know that, I think. But in my opinion, the timing of his firing is what brought this whole thing into question."
Superintendent Dr. Kristen Waters, however, urged people not to read into the coincidence:
"Bad timing," she said of the 48-hour window between her receiving Line's email and the crucial night of Nov. 3. "We do expect to have more details coming soon and, once we've finished the process, we'll be able to answer a lot of the questions we can't discuss at this time."
"That's part of the information we'll release once we've completed the entire process," she said. "I anticipate that happening in the near future."
We’ll find out what really happened soon enough. But there’s no evidence whatsoever suggesting the baptisms were the final straw.