In an exclusive statement to Yellowhammer News published December 26, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) defended Reeltown High School in Notasulga and head football coach Matt Johnson from the out-of-state Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF).
Now, the FFRF — self-described as the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics — is targeting Byrne.
It all started when 26 football players at Reeltown were voluntarily baptized at the school’s Nix-Webster-O’Neal Stadium.
Then, weeks after the baptisms occurred, the Freedom from Religion Foundation pounced, publishing a release entitled, “FFRF exposes Ala. public school team baptism.”
“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, Coach Johnson stood firm against the pressure from FFRF, and he found an ally in Byrne.
The congressman and Republican U.S. Senate candidate told Yellowhammer News at the time, “The Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to pack it up and stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats. 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 added, “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!”
Byrne’s stance apparently did not sit well with the FFRF. The very day that Yellowhammer News published that article, FFRF co-presidents Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote Byrne an official letter addressed to his congressional office in Washington, D.C.
That letter, which can be read in its entirety here, stated, “The reality is that when you refer to the ‘core values that made our country great,’ you are not referring to religious freedom, which is a crowning achievement of America’s founding. Rather, you are referring to the promotion of your personal religion, which happens to be the same religion that was being promoted by Coach Johnson.”
“Government officials using their position to push their personal religion on everyone else is precisely what the Founders sought to avoid by creating a secular Constitution and prohibiting any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion,'” the letter further asserted. “They recognized that there can be no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.”
Yet, FFRF did not leave the issue there. Apparently wanting public recognition for their letter, the foundation on Monday published a fresh press release attacking Byrne that was entitled, “FFRF says U.S. Rep. Byrne all wet in defending school baptisms.”
In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Monday responding to the organization’s letter and the press release, Byrne doubled down — again.
“This radical atheist group wants to hide behind their version of the Constitution to strip God from every facet of our lives,” he decried.
“I won’t sit back and let them bully Alabamians like Coach Johnson and those young boys for simply living out their faith,” Byrne continued. “This is about protecting the inalienable rights that were granted from God. The group can attack me all they want, but it won’t stop me from fighting for our fundamental values like the freedom to exercise one’s faith.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn