VILLA RICA, Ga. (AP) — A video of football players and a coach being dunked into a small tub of water during a mass baptism on a public high school football field is drawing criticism from a religious-freedom group, and officials in Georgia say they're investigating.
A Baptist church in Villa Rica — a city of 4,000 about 30 miles west of Atlanta — posted the video of the Aug. 17 incident on YouTube, WXIA-TV reported (http://on.11alive.com/1JB8TGQ ). The footage has since been removed but can be seen in a segment posted on WXIA's website. A crowd of people watch as the players and coach are submerged one by one during the baptism ceremony, a rite of initiation in many Christian churches.
"We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice!" officials from the church First Baptist Villa Rica wrote in a caption accompanying the video on YouTube, according to WXIA. "Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!"
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Carroll County officials Tuesday asking the district to investigate the incident and ensure there are no more religious events that violate students' constitutional rights on school grounds. The group also requested that the district state the steps it is taking to protect the constitutional rights of students.
"I can't remember another case like this," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, a Freedom from Religion Foundation official. "It's really misusing the authority of the coach to promote his personal religious agenda."
"It's forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team," she said. "How are they going to cross their coach? They have no choice. It's proselytizing, it's coercive, and it's not legal in our schools."
Carroll County assistant superintendent Terry S. Jones said in a statement emailed Wednesday to The Associated Press that the school district is taking the "appropriate steps" to investigate the matter.
"The Carroll County School System was made aware of a situation that took place at Villa Rica High School prior to football practice on August 17th," Jones said. "The District is currently looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed."
WXIA-TV says the pastor of First Baptist did not return messages seeking comment.
Information from: WXIA-TV, http://www.11alive.com/