Kentucky High School Coach Gets Players Baptized
Some question coach's judgment after trip to hear evangelist sermon.
Sept. 9, 2009— -- The actions of a Kentucky high school football coach have been questioned after he took nearly two dozen players on a field trip to an evangelist church service where nearly half the kids were baptized.
Breckinridge County High School Coach Scott Mooney last month used a public school bus to transport the kids approximately 35 miles but arranged for a volunteer driver and promised to pay for the gas himself, according to Superintendent Janet Meeks, who attended the service and witnessed the baptisms of her public school students.
"It was completely voluntary," Meeks told ABCNews.com, noting that of the team's 46 players, about 20 elected to go on the trip. Of those attendees, nine were baptized.
"They didn't get anything for attending," she said. "They didn't get anything for not attending."
The mothers of one of the baptized boys has said publicly that she was upset to learn her son had been baptized without her consent on a trip sponsored by a public school employee.
"Nobody should push their faith on anybody else," Michelle Ammons told the Louisville Courier-Journal." They have no right to take my son on a school bus across county lines to a church to be baptized."
But Meeks said that Ammons was the only parent to express disatisfaction with the trip. A couple of parents were in church at the time of the service.
The purpose of the outing was to see noted evangelist Ronnie Hill, and that was seemingly known to every parent but Ammons, Meeks said. Since the trip, school officials have spoken with Ammons in an effort to rectify the situation, but Ammons told the Courier-Journal that she is considering legal action.
Mooney, the school's coach for the last few years, she said, "talked with the kids a few times about what the trip invoved."
Mooney did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages.
No permission slips were issued, she said, because "it wasn't considered a school-sponsored event."
Bill Sharp, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the trip seemed to violate the Supreme Court's separation of church and state clause, especially since the coach likely discussed the trip with students during practices.
"The message conveyed to the students is there's an official endorsement," Sharp told ABCNews.com.
"There's certainly a coersive element," he said. "He's in a position of authority."
Kentucky, in the heart of the Bible Belt, has been the source of previous complaints about government encroachment on the promotion of religious viewpoints, Sharp said.
Though he could not confirm or deny if the American Civil Liberties Unio of Kentucky was investigating the Breckinridge County High School incident or if any complaints had been filed, Sharp said that "religious issues and religious liberty in general are a frequent topic of debate here in Kentucky."
But Meeks said she did not see the trip as pushing religious beliefs on anyone.
"The intent was all good. It's unfortunate it's gotten to this," Meeks said. "Certainly it was not our intent to violate anyone's rights."