The Effingham County School superintendent is setting the record straight on controversy over religion in his school district.
Thursday afternoon, a week after their coach resigned amid controversy, the Ebenezer Middle School baseball team prayed before their game. It was their first since the team hat became the subject of a battle over faith in schools.
Superintend ant Randy Shearouse said the players have every right to pray, which is not the issue. He says the issue was the school promoting a religion on their uniform.
It all started on Facebook, Shearouse said.
Lost in translation, through the stories, interviews, and hundreds of emotionally charged comments on Facebook before and after the topic made WTOC's newscast, Shearouse says is one fact.
The initial complaint was not made to his office or the principal of Ebenezer Middle School. He says a mother commented on Facebook about not approving of the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 on the back of her son's public school issued team hat. Someone saw the comment, called the principal, who Shearouse says called the parent to smooth things over.
"The principal did call the parent and apologize for what was going and about the hat but the parent would not accept the apology," Shearouse said.
Shearouse says the principal did speak with coach Kyle Houston about the Bible verse, which he explained was an idea of the students and picked by the students, but before anyone could call the mother again, Coach Houston chose to resign as coach.
Houston told WTOC last week he had no regrets, it was all his decision, and he did not want to be a distraction to the players and would continue with the district as a physical education teacher.
The parent's attorney, Andrew Seidel from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, alleges Houston was also praying with the team, a violation of the Constitution upheld by previous Supreme Court rulings.
Since the resignation, the issue has continued to rage online and in the community over what is allowed. Shearouse says what you believe and what is the law may be two different things.
Students can pray before games, bring a Bible to school, wear crosses and religious jewelry, but coaches, teachers and faculty cannot pray with them. The public schools, Shearouse says cannot promote religion or impose a religion on others or take away a child's individual right to express a religious belief, whether you agree or not.
"It's not a local policy, it's not a local rule. It's something the Supreme Court decided. We have to abide by the supreme law of the land. In this case, the Supreme Court. It's not a question of whether it's right or wrong. It's not a question of whether it's a local board. The local board is not making this decision. We are abiding by the laws of the land," Shearouse said.
Shearhouse says the team's assistant coach is coaching the team, so the perception the team is without a coach is not true. He also said no games were canceled because of the controversy. It was weather related.
Attorney Andrew Seidel says he plans on speaking with Shearouse on Monday to discuss a further plan of action on how his client would like the district to address the situation or similar situations in the future.
So far, they are not completely satisfied with actions Shearouse has taken. Shearouse says the principal has spoken with students and he has sent a memo to staff and faculty reminding them of school law and religion including a 1995 letter from the Department of Education.