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NC High School Football Coach Ordered To Cease Baptisms, Leading Prayers

Benjamin Fearnow
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Head football coach of Mooresville High School, Hal Capps, has been ordered to stop baptizing players and leading them in prayer following criticism from a national organization promoting constitutional separation of church and state. (Photo credit SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Head football coach of Mooresville High School, Hal Capps, has been ordered to stop baptizing players and leading them in prayer following criticism from a national organization promoting constitutional separation of church and state. (Photo credit SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Mooresville, N.C. (CBS CHARLOTTE) – Head football coach of Mooresville High School, Hal Capps, has been ordered to stop baptizing players and leading them in prayer following criticism from a national organization promoting constitutional separation of church and state.

The Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote a request last fall that coach Capps cease leading prayers and joining baptisms for his players as a base rule of separating public school activities and religious ceremonies. School Superintendent Mark Edwards met with Capps, who said, “he understood” the violation and would no longer participate in such religious observances, the Charlotte Observer reports.

“It is a violation of the Constitution for the Mooresville High School football coach to organize, lead, or participate in prayers or other religious proselytizing before, during, or after games and practices,” Patrick Elliott, attorney for Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote to the school’s district attorney last fall.

“It is well settled that public schools, and by extension public school officials, may not advance or promote religion.”

Elliott emailed the Observer a picture from the Blue Devils’ team Twitter, reportedly showing Capps at a team baptism. But Superintendent Edwards said the photo is from a baptism performed at the Charles Mack Citizen Center, a church that many team members attend and Capps was simply invited to attend.

Elliott noted that students subjected to prayer or religious activities from the coach have the right to sue the coach and the district on the basis of a civil rights violation.

The foundation reported that the school district had also received a complaint from the parent of a Mooresville student who “objects to religious endorsements from the coach. “Students have reported that Coach Capps frequently prays with football players at team events and encourages them to go to church and to become baptized,” reads the letter.

“It’s really inappropriate, wrong and unconstitutional for a coach to try to use that position to try and convert people to his religion,” writes Elliott.

Many in the community have come out in support of the Mooresville football coach.

“He’s a very proud Christian,” said Superintendent Edwards.

“I don’t think he’s forcing anybody; it’s all their decision,” resident Maribeth Stewart told WSOC-TV. “The more people who hear about Jesus the better.”

“I think it’s important to be able express ourselves, our beliefs,” Stewart told WSOC.

Capps apologized to local media for declining to be interviewed on the matter, saying only that the team was moving forward. According to Superintendent Edwards, he was not disciplined over the matter, and has written to the players and their families that he would not be leading the team in prayers in the future.

Benjamin Fearnow

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