VILLA RICA, Ga. — A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.
The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice.
“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! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.
Kevin Williams, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Todd Starnes, FOX news, that the football field baptisms were voluntary and held after school.
“We never meant to cause any problems for the school and we never thought we would get this much media attention for baptizing kids,” the Williams said.
According to the church’s Facebook page, the church has been quite involved in the football program.
“We’re trying our best as a community to reach out to these kids and love on them and show them there’s a better way – there’s hope,” Williams told Starnes. “That’s what we are providing through Jesus Christ to these kids.”
The video on YouTube has been removed by the user by Tuesday evening.
The Carroll County School District said in a released statement that it was “looking into the specifics of this situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure all state and federal laws are followed.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the district Tuesday (Sept. 1) asking it to “immediately investigate and take action to ensure there will be no further illegal religious events.”
In the letter, the Religion Foundation mentioned its lawsuit against Emanuel County School District for similar practices. The group is seeking punitive and personal liability damages in that case.
“We prefer to settle these matters cooperatively,” the letter reads before ending with a request to detail the steps the school district is taking to comply with the First Amendment.
“I can’t remember another case like this,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the foundation. “It’s really misusing the authority of the coach to promote his personal religious agenda.”
Georgia remains a lightning rod for these kinds of cases. A school band in Dublin was criticized Friday for playing Amazing Grace.
Last fall, the Madison County School Board voted to remove two Bible verses from a monument for the football team.
Those involved with the baptism have not hidden from it. The Villa Rica Touchdown Club posted the video to its Facebook page with the caption, “Share this with everyone! This should go viral!”
“Starting this video out, they call it a step of obedience, and then the camera pans to the students,” said Gaylor. “It’s forcing them to undergo a religious ritual to be accepted on a team. 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.”
WXIA-TV made numerous requests on Tuesday to the First Baptist Church of Villa Rica, but its pastor did not respond.
The city of Villa Rica straddles the Carroll and Douglas county line. Its population has more than tripled since 2000. Villa Rica High School, home of the Wildcats, enrolls about 1,500 students.
— by Matthew Pearl and Julie Wolfe | USA Today Network
Matthew Pearl and Julie Wolfe write for WXIA-TV, Atlanta. CNJ staff added to this report.