A school district in northwest Georgia has ended its partnership with a chaplain after complaints to the school system were filed at the end of June. The saga involves a football coach – who happens to be the father of a state representative – and a pastor who garnered headlines after professing at the Capitol that seven million Georgians “that are lost and dying are on the way to Hell,” raising questions over whether or not the speech resulted in constitutional violations

How does this involve the school district, though?

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Doyle Kelley

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter on June 20, 2019 to Polk County Schools following a series of open records requests that reportedly found that a reverend was the official team chaplain for the football team and had been delivering prayer to students at school sponsored events. The football coach, Doyle Kelley – the father of Cedartown Republican State Representative Trey Kelley – has been with the school system for 28 years. He is also the Athletic Director, according to the school website. His official school bio also notes, “I also serve as pastor at Worldview Baptist Church, where I still consider myself a coach, just one coaching for a different team that always wins.”

The FFRF said in its letter that, following Doyle Kelley’s controversial speech at the Capitol, the organization wanted to ensure the same message and practice was not being carried out in his capacity as a football coach. 

When the records yeilded documents indicating a perceived conflict, the FFRF asked that Polk Schools cease the practice of school-sponsored prayer and the team chaplain, citing decades of case law and judicial precedent.  

[Both the letter from FFRF and the school district’s response are at the bottom of the article]

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Scott Hendrix

Superintendent Laurie Atkins penned a letter to Christopher Line of the FFRF on June 25, 2019 informing him that Cedartown High School’s practice of having an official team chaplain had ended and the involved parties, including the Reverend (Wayne Benefield), Coach Doyle Kelley, and principal Scott Hendrix, had been informed. “I have met with both gentlemen to discuss all laws regarding the constitutional separation between state and church,” the letter reads.

In her letter, Atkins also said that “no staff member, nor non-school affiliated adult, is allowed to promote or endorse religion to students.” She said school staff with not schedule prayer at school-sponsored events, “including sports banquets.” Atkins relayed that administrative staff will undergo training on the constitutional separation of church and state in mid-July. 

In a press release, the FFRF said the organization applauds the move by the district. “FFRF is very pleased with the district’s prompt response to this issue,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented. “We commend the district on its commitment to upholding the rights of conscience of its students and community members.”

PolkSchoolDistrictGA

 

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15 COMMENTS

  1. This is very sad to hear for the Polk County School superintendent to give in on this matter. I have had 3 of my kids graduate form Cedartown High School, but I’m not sure if my youngest daughter will or not. This is very upsetting to me.

    • You’re upset because a school is adhering to national law that protects the religious rights of all citizens from government imposition? Obviously your civics teachers failed to properly educate you.

    • Incorrect. Happy day for any citizen who doesn’t want government organizations indoctrinating children into other religious denominations. Are you trying to give up control of your children’s spiritual guidance to a government employee? Would you be as accepting of this if the religion were Islam or Satanism?

  2. I grew up in Lindale and had prayer every morning and saluted the flag by saying allegiance. That is the America who loved God and our country. Go to Washington DC and look at history. Compare school you grew up in and now, bring God and prayer and discipline back and quit trying to be politically correct and raise your kids thus saith the Lord and then compare. Doyle is my cousin and may God continue to lead him.

    • You seem to be assuming that every parent would be fine with their children being indoctrinated using government authority. Would you still feel this way if the coach were Mormon, Lutheran, Muslim, or Satanist?

  3. I am offended that I am being discriminated against due to religion. I am highly offended that it is ok for my rights to be removed. I demand that me and my family be allowed to pray anywhere I want. I am not asking anyone to join me, just let me practice my given right.

    • Your children still have every right to pray in a non-disruptive manner at school. The issue here is a teacher abusing government authority for personal religious purposes.

  4. I think Polk School District Patents Grandparents and all Polk county families should oppose this now and our rights for freedom of speech is being violated. I am proud to say Wayne Benefeld and Coach Doyal Kelly are Christians and all the drugs killing and child stealing needs our prayers wherever we are.

    • Nobody is restricting your religious rights. Do you not understand that our government (and those acting on behalf of our government) have no religious rights. Only citizens (while not acting on behalf of our government) have a religious right to proselytize.

  5. …the article cites ‘complaints (plural; not just one, but more than one). This statement begs the questions were all the complaint(S) filed by FFRF?, or, were there others? And if so, from whom were the comlaints filed? Another question; ‘who’ filed the SERIES of open records requests? And in response to those requests, were they question and answer letters and who responded to them? The Suoperintendent? Or does the District and Cedartown High School keep written notes and minutes of each meeting with each team and by every Coach, Administrator, Speaker, Chaplain, Visitors, etc, and who records such notes if indeed any are taken. In other words, in response to the open records requests, WHO responded and what information did they rely on to form their response?

    • Would the answers to your questions make this any less of an abuse of government authority? Would those answers somehow make the coaches religious invocations less of a government imposition on the religious rights of these children and their parents?

  6. Religion should be instilled from the time of birth in the home,by the parents and in our places of worship ! The public schools, sponsored,and administered by the government should have no part in the indoctrination of our children. It is true that many of us “enjoyed” the benefits of school sponsored religious prayer recitation. However, we live in a different world in 2019 than was the world of 1952 or even 1992 ! I personally commend our Superintendent, Ms. Atkins, for her unpopular but wise stand in this matter. I have no doubt that I will also be labeled as an atheist and a trouble maker. I assure you that this determination will only be partially correct. There is no one who believes and loves Jesus Christ and His teachings more than I. However, if we promote prayer in our public schools, we are opening Pandoras Box to situations that would be intolerable ! If we permit Christian prayer in the educational environment, how will we stop the introduction of Satanic, Muslim or other doctrines to our youth ? We need to teach our own children the Christian Doctrine and forbid the government from interfering in any way whatsoever. Children can pray at anytime they wish to do so, it is not necessary for prayer to be audible. We can pray silently all day long and conduct as much missionary work as we like after school hours. Christian Youth may also feel free to set such an example in the educational setting as to be a “Light” to others leading them silently to Christ !

  7. BKPADGETTSR: You’re upset because a school is adhering to national law that protects the religious rights of all citizens from government imposition? Obviously your civics teachers failed to properly educate you.

    Lynn Junkins: Incorrect. Happy day for any citizen who doesn’t want government organizations indoctrinating children into other religious denominations. Are you trying to give up control of your children’s spiritual guidance to a government employee? Would you be as accepting of this if the religion were Islam or Satanism?

    Donna Price: You seem to be assuming that every parent would be fine with their children being indoctrinated using government authority. Would you still feel this way if the coach were Mormon, Lutheran, Muslim, or Satanist?

    Betty Holland Shafer: Your children still have every right to pray in a non-disruptive manner at school. The issue here is a teacher abusing government authority for personal religious purposes.

    Sue Cuzzort: Nobody is restricting your religious rights. Do you not understand that our government (and those acting on behalf of our government) have no religious rights. Only citizens (while not acting on behalf of our government) have a religious right to proselytize.

    Charles E. Trippe: Well said!!!

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