After an alleged coach-led pre-game prayer by the Graham High School “G-Men” Boys Soccer Team at the state championship game, an out-of-state atheist organization threatened to file a lawsuit against the school system. The local news reported that the prayer was led by the coaches of the team, but one of the coaches denies this accusation.
The Tazewell County School System “has been cautioned” by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based anti-religion group. The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports that “coaching staff for the Graham High School soccer team led students in prayer before a game on June 10, the FFRF alleges, saying it was reported by a concerned area resident.”
FFRF threatens thousands of small government agencies with lawsuits every year, including three Virginia localities this year alone. Their mission states they work to “protect the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.” The description on the side of their office building reads “Proudly Professional Pains In Ass Since 1978.”
The organization is recognized as a 501-C3 by the IRS, meaning that their donors are not reported. But according to research by InfluenceWatch, the prolific group is funded by Craigslist Charitable Fund, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, Schwab Charitable Fund, Silicon Valley Community Fund, and other private endowments.
In a letter published on the Freedom From Religion Foundation website, the school system was warned:
Tazewell County Public Schools has an obligation to make its sponsored activities nondiscriminatory and welcoming for all of its students, not just those in the religious majority, FFRF emphasizes in the letter. That’s why it is asking that the district to “commence an investigation into the complaint and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any district athletic programs.”
“Public school coaches who make a show of praying at matches are engaging in constitutionally unsporting behavior,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “District officials need to clearly indicate to them the rules for behavior on the soccer field.
We ask that the District commence an investigation into the complaint alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all school-sponsored prayers occurring within any District athletic programs. Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.” (emphasis added)
This is the same organization that sued the nearby Mercer County, West Virginia School System over it’s elective “Bible In Schools” program. “Bible In Schools” was an elective class funded by local churches taught at the area high school. FFRF filed a lawsuit in 2017 against the county school system over the class which had been taught for 75 years. The US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the FFRF about the course after nearly three years of litigation, meaning the school system could continue the elective. Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) then signed legislation to allow “Bible In Schools” classes across the Mountain state.
Previously, the FFRF sued a nearby county school system, this time on the Virginia side of the border, over their public display of the Ten Commandments. Giles County Public Schools had a public display at a local school featuring historic documents, which contained the Ten Commandments. After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined with FFRF in their lawsuit and took them to federal court, US District Court Judge Michael Urbanski – and Obama appointee – sent the case to mediation. The school system ultimately agreed to take down the display.
In Montgomery County, the FFRF threatened a lawsuit over two religious-related incidents. The Montgomery County Sheriff chose to remove police car decals with the scripture verse “Blessed Are The Peacemakers Matthew 5:9” after criticism from FFRF. Separately, the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department canceled a recreation trip to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum after complaints from FFRF.
Bluefield Town Councilman and 15-year Graham Soccer Assistant Coach Chuck Presley recounted the events of the pre-game prayer, and commented to The Virginia Star, “My thing is that people have their own thoughts.”
The Telegraph has told the press that we are leading prayer, and that is simply not true. We simply stand there, the kids are leading their own prayer and not forced to pray. No kid is told they cannot play if they don’t pray. We don’t pressure these kids. This Wisconsin-based group can have a problem, that’s fine. But we are not leading kids’ prayer.
Councilman Presley also directed us to social media comments.
Cooolllllll. Looks like us coaches of gmen soccer are bad role models. So the kids lead the team in prayer and now a Wisconsin based agency has as a issue. Here is some advise. Mind ya damn Ole business and get a life
I think you need to know the facts before believing a article. As a 15 year coach of Graham High School Men Soccer team Id like to clear anything up with you or anyone who believe this article. Once again before I start, dont believe everything you hear first or see first. So heres the flip side to that coin. Before every game the team takes a knee and prays. This is 100% initiated by the players who Willingly do this their own. WE as coaches join in with prayer with our players(We dont require to do this to our kids). We as coaches, respect the kids. If they looked at us and said” We dont want to pray”, then guess what. We wouldnt pray! So Lets take this a step farther for anyone from Wisconsin trying to metal in our business too. As a son of a asia immigrant myself, I understand first hand the differences in religion in America. The team this year actually had two players of Asia descent on the team too. If and EVER anyone of my players came up to me(Who believe in another religion) and said “Coach, will you stand with me or kneel with me in prayer before the game” Then i would do so. You know why? Because out on that field those players are like my kids and for that they are my family! We do not and will not ever force a religion onto any player and best believe me it would never effect they reason for playing time. So moral of the story is. These fools should come talk to us and get the facts before putting out garbage like this. This is nothing but damaging for no GOD giving reason! Hope that clears up anything you might want to know.”
Virginia State Senator Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) responded to the letter and Telegraph report:
I am confident that our school officials are striving to balance the free speech right of students to pray as our Constitution guarantees while also not criticizing or promoting one religion at the expense of another. It appears that this out-of-state activist group is looking to set up a lawsuit and create financial risk to every local Virginia tax payer. It is unfortunate that this type of activist bullying goes on every day across our nation, and my prayers go out to our local educators who are daily investing in the next generation of Virginians. They deserve support and encouragement from our community and they certainly have mine.
In speaking with local residents, there is an effort to organize a grassroots response to the FFRF letter, however, details about the response have not been confirmed as of press time. Bluefield, Virginia resident and “Victory In Jesus” Ministries leader Mickey Vance is working to organize the efforts to support pre-game prayers. He is a local conservative Christian activist who travels the local area with his “Victory in Jesus” trailer, which he parks at local events and meetings to hand out Bibles and religious pamphlets.
Vance told The Star he wants to organize fellow Christians, pastors and evangelists, and parents together in the next few weeks to have a rally to support school prayer. Vance would like to have a conservative attorney come to speak with the residents of the town to inform them of their rights. He also plans to bring his “Victory in Jesus” trailer to local high school sporting events in the upcoming football season for prayer. The retired grandfather of two said he also wants to organize petitions supporting school prayer that he plans to send to the Tazewell County School Board, Delegate Will Morefield (R-Tazewell), Senator Travis Hackworth, and Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09).
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