Some critical of high school baptisms in memory of student killed

Katie Beth Carter's brother, Jacob, is a practicing minister and baptized the players. (WTVC)

RINGGOLD, Ga. (WTVC) - A high school organization baptized football players in memory of student tragically killed last month.

Heritage High School's Fellowship of Christian Athletes and football team decided to hold a special ceremony to baptize players in memory of Katie Beth Carter.

Carter was killed in a car crash Labor Day weekend.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation says they violated the constitution.

The organization is a national nonprofit that advocates for the separation of church and state.

"It was a powerful afternoon I'll remember forever," Heritage High Football Head Coach E.K. Slaughter said.

Last week, 12 of Slaughter's players remembered Katie Beth Carter.

Carter was the football team's manager and eventually director of team operations.

She was very close with the team, Slaughter says.

"When things like this happen you take a hard look at yourself," he said.

He spoke before and after the players were baptized.

Katie Beth's family was there and her brother, Jacob, baptized the players.

"This is the craziest, coolest thing I've ever done and Katie would be so proud," Jacob told the players a video recorded by his sister, Kimi.

"I think because of that those guys really received, kind of a jolt of 'Man, I want that and I want people to remember me the same way they remember her'," Jacob said.

Slaughter says it was after football practice was dismissed and other players went home.

"My love for my Lord is a decision every day. So choose every day to do that," Slaughter can be heard saying this to players in the video.

Elizabeth Cavell with the Freedom from Religion Foundation says the ceremony violates the law of keeping religion out of public schools.

"A public school district employee can't participate in religious activities with the student players," Cavell explained.

Although Coach Slaughter says the ceremony wasn't part of practice, Cavell argues it creates an uncomfortable environment for students who don't believe the same thing.

"There is a lot of pressure on students in general to conform and I think that pressure is heightened in the context of athletics where it's a team mentality," Cavell said.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation says they want the school system to pay attention to this law and not let it happen again.

Coach Slaughter says he doesn't think he did anything wrong but says if they did they will make a change for the next time they hold an event like that one.

On Tuesday, Catoosa County Superintendent Denia Reese released the following statement:

"Many Heritage High School students have been affected by the tragic and sudden death of Katie Beth Carter. When her brother spoke at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) activity, after football practice one evening, some of the players were moved to become a Christian like Katie Beth. I certainly support their commitment and understand after they lost a friend so suddenly that they would want to be baptized immediately. I believe Coach Slaughter invited Mr. Carter after the football practice ended, so attendance at the FCA activity would be voluntary.
I received a complaint today from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. To protect the system, and our employees who want participate in activities like this FCA event with students, I will consult with our attorney to determine how to comply with the law at events in the future."

Reese added that there is no current policy regarding staff members leading religious activities.

Depend on us to keep you posted on this story.

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