Religion

Team Road Trip Ends in Tragedy…I Mean “Baptism”

Atheists have got it all wrong, man. They convince other people to give up religion by writing long, scholarly books and the occasional angry essay, or by encouraging them to learn more about religion, or by not actually caring whether or not a person is religious. They should really take notes from the Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Kentucky, where new recruits to the faith are drafted by taking minors to a group baptism without their parents’ permission.

JesusFootballTwo weeks ago, public-high-school football coach Scott Mooney took about 20 members of his team of minors on a “team-building” trip to a church 40 kilometers away, in a school bus, with the school superintendent in attendance, without requiring permission slips, and with at least one parent under the impression that the team was going to have dinner and hear a motivational speaker.

Eight of the kids changed into white robes and were baptized. At least one kid says he had no idea what was going on, and boy is his Catholic dad pissed—not because he wanted the boy to remain Catholic (the mother is Baptist), but because he wanted his son to be allowed to make up his own mind about his faith, free from the pressure of his coach, superintendent, or teammates. The son, of course, is mortified and just wants his dad to shut up because he “fears ruffling feathers among the team.” What a perfect illustration of why this all happened: peer pressure. What 16-year old boy really wants to be the one who doesn’t go along with the crowd? (While there were other students who weren’t Baptized, if they were already Baptists, they wouldn’t need to.)

The highlight of the article is the response from the reverend, Ron Davis:

Although Rev. Davis typically seeks parental consent for baptisms involving minors, he said the boys were “bulked up” and looked older than their 16 years.

“I didn’t check their IDs,” he said, adding that Mr. Mooney — who has brought players to church services in the past — did not pre-arrange for the boys to accept the sacrament.

But officer! The boys on the high school football team coached by a known member of my congregation who showed up in a school bus looked like adults!

jesus_footballFor full disclosure, I grew up Baptist and was Baptized when I was about seven. The preacher came to my house and asked me questions about Jesus, verifying that I understood I was accepting him as my personal savior. Can a 7-year old really weigh her options, consider alternate religions, and make a rational decision about a thing like that? My adult self says no, of course not—I had never even heard of Islam, Buddhism, or Judaism, and I certainly hadn’t realized that there was even a possibility that my entire family and community could be wrong about the existence of a god.

But, I remember believing fervently in the Baptist god and wanting to be “saved,” and I felt good about my choice. Being Baptized didn’t require that I sign a contract for the rest of my life . . . it just required me to affirm what I believed at that time in front of my congregation. And hey, at least it was what my parents thought would be best for me.

The bamboozled high school football players, though, are another story. Parents were misled and the authority of a public school was used to trick kids into affirming something they didn’t even believe. That’s just slimy. Um, and illegal?

On the plus side, the parents are fighting back. And, this nicely highlights how desperate churches are getting. After all, if your religion is so shitty that you have to trick minors into joining it, you’ve got a serious PR problem on your hands.

Thanks to reader Deirdre for the tip.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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66 Comments

  1. One news article I read about this a few days ago mentioned that transportation to the revival meeting was on a school bus. No peer pressure on a sports team, or expectations from parents and coaches, no not at all.

  2. From another article: “But Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is a member of the church and witnessed the baptisms, said she thinks the trip was proper because attendance was not required, and another coach paid for the gas.”

    I wonder how proper she would think it was if the field trip had ended up with, say, a COS “personality test”.

  3. The Catholic father there is a perfect example of why all sane religious people, not just atheists, should want separation of church and state.

    Unfortunately, the set of “sane religious people” is only a small subset of “religious people”.

  4. I grew up Baptist and was Baptized when I was about seven. The preacher came to my house and asked me questions about Jesus, verifying that I understood I was accepting him as my personal savior.

    At least you could speak – I was baptised closer to seven weeks than seven years!

  5. I can’t say I understand the outrage that much. If you actually believed that it had some power perhaps, but all that really happened was the kids in the football team got dunked in water. No harm in that. The kid with the Catholic dad is still free to choose whatever religion he likes.

  6. I think the point that another coach paid for the gas is mooted by the fact that is state property.

    “But, boss! Yes, I screwed an underage girl in my office, but it was on my own time!”

    Would that excuse really hold up to keep from getting you fired, even if it wasn’t illegal from the word “go”!?

  7. @owheelj: Sorry I didn’t make it painfully obvious: this is a gross violation of separation of church and state and a disgusting betrayal of the trust parents have in those they entrust to care for their children in and around schools. The boy will survive…what’s critical is that separation of church and state does as well.

  8. @owheelj: Violation of the separation clause for one. Violation of the child’s rights by being pressured into a baptism by authority figures (coach and superintendent). Violation of the parent’s rights to to know what the school is doing with their child and to be accurately informed. There’s is nothing remotely acceptable in this.

  9. Sure, I understand, but I hardly think events like this will have any impact on the separation between church and state. If in the next few weeks the relationship between church and state does change, I’ll accept that I’m wrong about this.

    I’m not saying that people shouldn’t complain about it, just that harm doesn’t was not very serious.

  10. lol.

    I love the “rational” responses.

    “I don’t understand the outrage” doesn’t equal “I think this acceptable.”

    It’s not acceptable. I don’t support it. I don’t think it should be allowed. I just don’t think it’s as serious an issue as some people seem to be making out.

  11. Concepts like the separate of church and state or, say, rule of law don’t vanish over night. They’re slowly eroded over time by a steady drip of minor violations like this.

    If we didn’t have school boards trying to get creationism into classes, we could write this off as an isolated incident of a coach and school superintendent who are just idiots. But we have to see it as part of a larger pattern of abuses, because that’s the context in which this happened.

    And, again, there’s a clear-cut protocol violation involved. When you take kids off school grounds for any reason whatsoever, barring an emergency, you get parental permission. Period. That’s simply the rule, and it exists for the protection of the kids. Not protection from being dunked in water specifically, but the greater protection of not having adult authority figures allowed to drag your fucking kid off without you knowing about it. I mean, for fuck’ sake, this particular coach took the kids to a Baptist church. What if he’d taken them to a NAMBLA meeting? Or a Klan rally? Or the Creation Museum? Parents need to know about that shit.

  12. @owheelj: Um. What if one of the students WAS a different religion and being baptized was strongly against their beliefs and religions, but they were essentially forced to be baptized? It doesn’t really matter if YOU don’t think it holds any weight. Some people do. Others would rather their children not be exposed to it, for whatever reason (and the reasons don’t matter!) The staff also LIED to the parents, didn’t even get permission slips, and many parents were under the impression that their children were somewhere else entirely. That in itself is 100% illegal and wrong. What if something had gone wrong?

    I’m an atheist, and I’d be *PISSED*.

    And as others have mentioned, separation of church and state is very real and this was very illegal.

    It certainly IS a “big deal” even if you don’t think it is.

  13. @owheelj: You’re serious? It’s an ongoing battle. You have to continue to fight this kind of stuff, otherwise people (like you) will just shrug and say “no big deal!”.

    “It’s not acceptable. I don’t support it. I don’t think it should be allowed. I just don’t think it’s as serious an issue as some people seem to be making out.”

    So if your child was taken somewhere without your permission, peer pressured into taking part of something that is 100% ILLEGAL, and you were further lied to from staff, you wouldn’t find it a “big deal”?

    Your “it’s 100% wrong!” and “but it’s not a big deal!” doesn’t jive at all.

  14. @Rebecca: It’s the seperation of church and state in america that makes “church” so strong there.

    The church and state are so closely linked in the UK that a recent investigation by parliment showed that decouple them would require every every piece of legislation written in the last 200 years to be re-written and re-debated.

    The upshot of this is that, yes there are bishops in the upper house, but ultimately religion is beholden to politics which has a massive moderating effect on religion to the point of it being innocuous.

    As for religion in school, by law all English schools must have a collective act of worship everyday and at least an hour’s religious instruction every week.

    Now, at the time, how did you feel about High School Calculus? Exactly.

    The reason the UK is more secular is because generation after generation of schoolchildren have been force fed religion AND when you’ve actually studied the bible you’re fully aware of all the inconsistancies, racism and general insanity.

    Ignorance of the bible is the evangelist’s best weapon.

  15. @marilove: It like school uniforms, it becomes an excuse for minor infractions to show defience without getting in trouble for breaking the rules (or doing anything dangerous). It sets the ground work for mocking the ridiculousness of religion on a daily basis.

    For example, at my school we said the “school prayer” everyday. Everyday for 7 years and all I can remember of it is the first line (said in the most flat monotone possible) :

    ohgodinwhomwetrustblahblahblahblahblah AAAAAAMMMMEEEEENNNNNN!

    Same with school hymns, you make us sing it, but we’re going to sing in the quietest most uninspired, unenthusiastic way possible. Totally obedient, totally defient.

    Admittiedly, when you start school its all nativity plays and colouring in the ark, but by the time you get to year 9 you’re being questioned about “What is the Christian Marriage?”, to which you can write a Betty Bowers type answer and not get into trouble because “it’s all in the bible sir”

    And in the upper school you’re writting essay about the history of the church mostly murderous crusades, sex mad popes, historical battles with science and general hypocracy.

  16. @russellsugden: “The reason the UK is more secular is because generation after generation of schoolchildren have been force fed religion”

    I think that is just part of the reason. I think it helps that in the UK we tend to have a rather healthy disrespect for authority. With the church being an authority one often comes up against, the disrespect for religion follows.

    Certainly the religion that was fed to me (drip fed rather than force fed) at primary school (up to age 11) probably led to my atheism, though the obviously atheist RE teacher I had from age 11-13 also helped – he delighted in showing us “Life of Brian” in class.

  17. @Andrew Nixon:
    “I think that is just part of the reason. I think it helps that in the UK we tend to have a rather healthy disrespect for authority. With the church being an authority one often comes up against, the disrespect for religion follows.”

    Irony, thy name is Revolution. ;-)

  18. @marilove: I’d like to take your comment one level further. I don’t think the issue is whether the kids might of been of different religions or whether they might not have wanted to be baptized. It appears, in fact, that some of them were not baptized although it is not clear whether it was because they had already been “saved” or whether they were godless heathens. Setting aside all of the legal reasons you gave, with which I totally agree, there is an additional fundamental reason why this should not have happened. It is a form of hazing. Whether you are forced to submit to paddling, walking around a mall in your underwear or eating gross foods, hazing is a forbidden form of treatment. To require kids to participate in a ritual without question and without concern for their own personal beliefs is, IMHO, hazing as well.

  19. @Old Geezer: “To require kids to participate in a ritual without question and without concern for their own personal beliefs is, IMHO, hazing as well.”

    I am inclined to agree, especially since it’s clear there was likely peer pressure involved, from the parents and possibly other students.

    The whole thing is disturbing, even if owheelj thinks we’re overreacting.

  20. I don’t think we’re overreacting. If it were the other way around, and a busload of Baptists were exposed to, say, a dissertation on ‘The God Delusion’, the Baptists would be demanding the death penalty. That would be overreacting.

  21. @marilove: “I mean religion is force fed to us, too, just differently.”

    In the US, religion has started to emphasize faith over knowledge which has the consequence of making it harder for people to over look inconsistencies.

    As for why Britain is so much secular, one author I read seemed to suggest that the reason why is due to World War I and the death a generation of men.

  22. @Nightfall: “In the US, religion has started to emphasize faith over knowledge which has the consequence of making it harder for people to over look inconsistencies.”

    You have a point! Though I do think it depends on where you live and/or grew up.

  23. @marilove: You are entitled to your opinion. As a woman with children and grandchildren, who has watched other folks’ children deal with this sort of thing, I say it’s a fair comparison. Forcing religion on a child is a violation . .when it’s done by a person in a position of authority who a child wants to please it’s no different than physical violation in terms of the emotional distress it can cause.

  24. @Marilove; but it doesn’t matter how much weight people give baptisms. All that really happens is that a person gets wet. It actually has no power, no matter how many people think it does. There’s no way of testing people to see if they’ve been baptised or not – nothing actually changes about their body. This is no worse then the football team saying a prayer before each game.

    On the other hand, there are lots of issues relating to religion that are clearly a lot more serious. I don’t know the specifics in the US, but in Australia we have massive tax breaks, public hospitals run by the Catholic church that won’t offer services like counselling to rape victims, input into scientific debates from unqualified people because of their religious views etc. I care about these issues. I don’t care if people get wet.

  25. @owheelj: Are you really ignoring the emotional and psychological aspects of religion and baptizing, and of this situation?

    You do realize that accepting this sort of thing only further legitimizes the stuff you claim you are against, don’t you?

  26. Baptizm is a big thing for the …um… Baptists. They might as well be saying “You should be members of our church… here.. let me sign you up.” If ANYONE did that with kids and sent them home with membership kits from some Atheist organization, there would be a lynch mob forming outside the school seconds after the first kid came home.

    But here it’s just an innocent also-ran with the kids? You can’t have it both ways. Either Baptism is a big thing and you MUST involve the parents no matter how “bulked up” the kids look or it’s not a big thing and you aren’t really Baptists anyway.

    And they say that putting a stop to things like this would be stepping on THEIR religious freedoms. That takes a special kind of stupid.

  27. This is just the latest example of the problem Kentuckians are having sorting out the whole Church-State Separation thing.

    Currently in Louisville, we have a (former) football coach on trial for the heat-related death of one of his players. The coach was hired, according to the principal of the school, in part because of his Christian beliefs.

    We just had the foundational legislation of our state office of homeland security overturned because it cited a “dependance on Almighty God” for the protection of the Commonwealth. This is currently in the early stages of appeal by our ambitious AG who claims that the wording of the law was simply intended to acknowledge religion.

    And now this. (And the nugget that this coach had brought groups to the church before was news to me, but I shouldn’t be surprised.)

    On the up side, this does distract a little from Ken Ham’s $27 million monument to anti-science up the highway…

  28. @owheelj:

    @Marilove; but it doesn’t matter how much weight people give baptisms. All that really happens is that a person gets wet. It actually has no power, no matter how many people think it does. There’s no way of testing people to see if they’ve been baptised or not – nothing actually changes about their body. This is no worse then the football team saying a prayer before each game.

    I’m not outraged over the water dunking, it’s over the actions of the coach and others. Parents were lied to and the children were coerced through peer pressure. Some of the parents of the boys showed up at the baptism, but other parents weren’t even told the truth about where the boys were going to be taken.

    As an Australian it may not be a big deal to you, but as someone who grew up in a rural bible-belt community I can say without a doubt that it is a very big deal to those involved with this.

    On the other hand, there are lots of issues relating to religion that are clearly a lot more serious. I don’t know the specifics in the US, but in Australia we have massive tax breaks, public hospitals run by the Catholic church that won’t offer services like counselling to rape victims, input into scientific debates from unqualified people because of their religious views etc. I care about these issues. I don’t care if people get wet.

    In the U.S. the churches don’t get tax breaks. They aren’t taxed at all. That goes not only for the churches, but if I understand correctly it also goes for that Mausoleum to stupidity in Petersburg, Kentucky.

    I don’t know if the Catholic hospitals don’t provide counseling, but there was recently an effort (I don’t know if it passed) to allow pharmacists to “follow their conscience” when it comes to contraceptives, the plan B pill, and other things that would conflict with their religious and/or philosophical beliefs.

    We do have issues with religion getting involved in science. It was religion that severely restricted stem cell research until just recently, it’s religion that is making us have to constantly fight to keep intelligent design from being taught as science in schools, and don’t even get me started on how dumbed down the science is because of religious sensibilities.

    Yes, there are many other more serious issues that entail religion in our society. However, I’m not outraged that a group of boys were dunked in whater. I’m fucking livid that the coach (and possibly others) used deception and abuse of authority to coerce the boys into a “team building exercise”.

  29. @marilove:

    You do realize that accepting this sort of thing only further legitimizes the stuff you claim you are against, don’t you?

    Um, um, but wait, wait! If that statement is not true when it comes to marriage, how can it be true when it comes to religion?

    Colour me befuddled.

    Seriously though, while I am certainly against this baptising foolishness and more or less sneaking the kids into it, is it not a wee bit disingenuous to be so worried about the the issue of separation/non-separation of church and state? Hasn’t it been decades since there was a truly meaningful separation of church and state in the US? Yes, I know it’s on the paperwork, but in practice the two have been evermore closely entwined over the last several decades. Haven’t they? Isn’t that what powers Presidential elections? In practice?

  30. SicPreFix: That’s WHY it’s important. For the same reason that the fundies (and sadly not just them) think that allowing gays to marry is an attack on their religious freedoms, they think that separation of church and state are easy to ignore because “well.. the wall doesn’t really exist” We need to get it back because however much/little these inconveniences affect our lives now, letting this issue go away will cause all sorts of hurt in the future, and it’s things like this where even though the judge is working against religion, he’s also (and more importantly) working against the freedoms we want in place.

    This will come back to haunt all of us later.

  31. @SicPreFix: So we should just shrug and accept it?

    I mean, we can’t fix EVERYTHING, but this is a VERY baltant violation of church and state, not to mention the fact that staff out-right lied to the parents, manipulated the children, and used peer pressure to get their desired results.

    To shrug and say this is no big deal is hugely naive and counter-productive, especially when, in the same breath, you complain about other related issues.

  32. I would also argue that Christians are told to embrace the concept of the separation of church and state. “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s..” and all that. Every time religion and politics mix, it ends up being bad for a lot of people, even the religious folk. Get religion out of public schools, out of marriage, off our money and out of our pledge. Then maybe we can all get along.

  33. @Berlzebub: I’m pretty sure pharmacists here (Canada) are allowed to refuse to dispense meds they disagree with for religious reasons. Makes me nuts. If you’re not willing to dispense medication recommended by a physician, don’t become a pharmacist. It’s your JOB to fill prescriptions, no matter what irrational stone age mantra you prefer.

    I hope the adults involved get at minimum a nasty wrist slapping. Sounds like they violated laws and common decency. Maybe require them to host a de-baptism ceremony!

  34. Kentucky has a huge problem with religion sneaking into all sorts of places it shouldn’t (I know, because I live here). And for the most part its condoned. I’m an atheist, I don’t agree with it and I think the coach should be fired for abusing the trust parents placed in him. If he had taken the boys to a whorehouse, you would actually see more local outrage than you would a baptism. “What would Jesus do?” My bets are on the whorehouse.

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