Freedom From Religion Foundation says coach Mark Mariakis has, among other wrongs, allowed churches to prepare meals for his players. The complaint alleges, for example, that Solid Rock Baptist Church in Flintstone held a dinner in which a church leader “preached” to the team.
There are other, equally serious, violations, said Andrew Seidel with the foundation, which consists of “atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, heretics and nonbelievers,” according to its website.
Seidel, an atheist, said there are allegations that Mariakis, who participates in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, prayed with his team, used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts, and held Christian football camps during summer break.
“I do have reservations about (Mariakis’) ability to keep his religion out of his job,” Seidel said. “He seems to be very proud that he mixes football and God, which would be fine if he were at a private Christian school. But as a public high school coach, that’s unconstitutional.”
See Facebook page in support of coach Mariakis.
Seidel said the foundation filed the complaint Tuesday, Aug. 21, with Walker County school administrators. The complaint originated in late July from someone involved with Ridgeland High’s football program, he said.
Seidel declined to say who filed the initial complaint, in order to protect the person from possible retributions from the public.
Walker County school superintendent Damon Raines said school officials are reviewing the complaint.
“Our first step is to look at the allegations and then begin to look into it in the manner of which we should,” Raines said. “We are getting more information that gives us plenty to review and then we will work through the process.”
Seidel posed a scenario in which coach Mariakis is Moslem, taking the players to a mosque for team dinners. He said that, in such a situation, there would be significant public outcry against the coach.
Regarding the summer camps, Seidel said, “You are pressured to go to that (Christian football) camp if you want to play. You are looked down upon if you don’t go to that camp.”
“Playing time should strictly be based on merit, not on religious conviction,” he said.
He said the foundation is seeking “immediate action to stop any and all violations of the First Amendment.”
“The purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state,” Seidel wrote in the complaint.
At the crux of the complaint is the First Amendment violation that occurs when faculty members inject religion into their professional roles as an educator or even as a coach, Seidel said. The foundation isn’t seeking to stop students from practicing their religion, only to end the perceived pushing of a particular religion by an employee, he said.
“We’re not trying to cause this school district financial ruin,” Seidel said. “We just want the Constitution to be followed and we think that everybody should want that.”
All policies regarding prayer are set locally, not by the Georgia Department of Education, according to Matt Cardoza, director of communications at GDOE.