In the wake of the publicity surrounding the issue of prayer and school athletics in Coweta County, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has organized a large-scale community prayer.
On Thursday, members of the community are invited to a rally at Garland Shoemake Stadium to hear messages of prayer from students, teachers and coaches – including East Coweta Coach John Small, who is expected to speak during the event, which starts at 7 p.m.
Organizers said the idea for the rally was an obvious reaction to the recent controversy after a letter from an out-of-state atheist organization forced Small to retire his tradition of praying with his team.
The letter called a coach leading the team in prayer a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment” and asked the school system to begin an immediate investigation and to take action to stop all school-sponsored prayer in school system athletic programs.
In the last two weeks, Small said the attention paid to the issue hasn’t been too overwhelming, but hopes the rally will help clear up one big misconception.
“In the media, it’s been portrayed as it’s the coaches versus the Board of Education, but that hasn’t been the case at all,” Small said. “Superintendent Steve Barker is an outstanding man in a tough spot, but the position of leadership is a notoriously tough spot. If we didn’t feel the support from the board, we would be the first to say something about that.”
The primary purpose of the upcoming rally is an attempt to bring healing, unity and clarity to a community dealing with an emotional issue, according to Rob Brass, local director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“People are laying blame at the foot of the local school board, but they’re only doing their job of protecting teachers from legal situations,” Brass said. “The message is to empower and encourage students to get the word out they they’re in the driver's seat of this movement.”
Brass has been with the FCA full-time for over six years. The primary purpose of the organization is to focus on serving the community by equipping, empowering and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ.
"We mostly work through the medium of sports,” Brass said. “But our goal is to minister to and impact everyone for Christ.”
Through school-wide huddles and team huddles here in Coweta County alone, Brass said his group can reach as many as 2,000 students on a weekly basis.
But while the origin of the controversy may have started on the football field, their message travels beyond the world of student athletics, and Small is encouraging everyone to attend the rally.
“I think it’s a great way to heal and grow,” Small said. “It’s passing the torch to our kids, telling them to take the lead. I’m so proud of our kids in the community and everything they have done is nothing less than amazing.”
According to Brass, the school board is doing the right thing and hopes the rally will help bring peace to the situation.
“If they didn’t follow the rules of the land, it would be unbiblical,” he said. “You don’t have to like the law of the land in order to follow it.”
Sgt. Ryan Foles with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office is sworn to protect and uphold those same laws, but he’s an active member of Crossroads Community Church.
In the short amount of time following the controversy with Coach Small, Foles said he’s been contacted by a number of concerned people in his church and the community who are asking one question – What can I do?
“Most of our local leaders don’t like the law either, but the first step is always prayer,” Foles said. “We’ve already seen the good things coming from that.
“What we don’t like is how the courts have misinterpreted the Constitution and have essentially told a citizen (Coach Small) he can’t express his religious freedom,” Foles said.
“As followers of Christ, we are in a spiritual war and I think our students have finally seen that first-hand.”