Byrne defends Reeltown High School from Freedom from Religion Foundation
The out-of-state Freedom from Religion Foundation is attacking yet another Alabama school.
Last month, 26 football players at Reeltown High School in Notasulga were voluntarily baptized at Nix-Webster-O’Neal Stadium, as reported by The Outlook. Now, head football coach Matt Johnson and the school are under fire from the foundation.
Here’s how it happened, per The Outlook:
Rick and Mick Ministries had a presentation at Reeltown, which was not mandatory, and following the presentation, 26 football players stood up and said they wanted to commit their lives to Christ.
“My duty is to follow up with that, as a Christian,” Johnson said.
After giving the boys time to think and process, Johnson met with his team and the team chaplain, Tim Smith, and again asked if the boys were serious and did in fact want to be baptized. The 26 boys once again stood up and said yes.
Johnson did not promote this ceremony, which took place on the football field prior to practice. He did not advertise it. He did not ask permission.
“I didn’t want to make it an event that took away from what they were doing,” Johnson said. “I wanted it to be about them and their salvation. I didn’t want attention on me and I didn’t want the attention on football. I wanted it to just be between those guys who made that decision and that relationship.”
No one was forced. In fact, there was a near equal number of football players who chose not to participate. In all the things seen as religiously based done within the Reeltown football program, nothing is forced. Johnson even said, “It’s not like I’m going to make them run hills if they don’t pray.”
In recent days, weeks after the baptism occurred, the Freedom from Religion Foundation published a release entitled, “FFRF exposes Ala. public school team baptism,” like the organization was exposing some nefarious criminal racket.
Unlike many of the organization’s releases about religious activities they oppose, the Freedom from Religion Foundation in this case did not say that their involvement with Reeltown comes after a local complaint.
“It’s an egregious overstep for public school officials to put Christian baptism in the playbook,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation essentially asked the school to cease and desist from similar religious-related activities, with the most likely consequence to non-compliance in the future being a lawsuit by the foundation against one of the state’s poorest rural school districts.
However, the Reeltown coach — who is also the school’s athletic director — does not seem concerned.
“(This) will never ever change as long as I am here or as long as this place is open,” Johnson told The Outlook. “This is a community thing. This is not a football thing or a coach Johnson thing. This is about these kids making a decision and us following through with it and a standard for how this community is built.”
The coach is apparently standing strong, and he has a vocal ally in Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), a Republican 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in the Yellowhammer State.
Byrne initially tweeted in response to The Outlook’s editorial defending Johnson.
“Helping bring a person to know Christ should be praised, not attacked. The core values that made our country great are under attack, and we need more leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right! Stand strong, [Coach Johnson]!” Byrne emphasized.
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Byrne doubled down on his stance.
“The Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to pack it up and stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats,” he advised. “The foundation says they want separation of church and state, but what they really want to is to rip God out of our nation altogether.”
“I’m thankful for leaders like Coach Johnson who are doing the right thing and serving as positive role models to our young people,” Byrne concluded.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been active across Alabama in recent years, but Lee County and the surrounding area have now had more than their fair share of attention.The foundation has recently been involved in public spats with Auburn University’s football program and Opelika City Schools’ football programs, to go along with nearby Tallapoosa County Schools’ Reeltown.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn