Broken Arrow Public Schools accused of violating U.S. Constitution with baptisms on school grounds

Oct 8, 2021

Broken Arrow Public Schools violated the United States Constitution by allowing a local church to perform baptisms on student athletes and coaches following a football practice, a national advocacy group alleges.

"Brian Preston, student director at BattleCreek Church, posted a smoking-gun video to Facebook documenting several baptisms that occurred on Sept. 5 after a Broken Arrow High School football practice," the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote in a press release. "Preston confirms in the video that the baptisms took place 'after football practice, right here at Broken Arrow High School.' He explains that 10 football team members 'gave their life to Christ' and 'those same students step[ped] forward in baptism in front of all their peers' after practice. Included in the video is a coach’s dunking in the baptismal tub, induced to 'step foot into the baptism waters' after 'he saw the faith in his players.' Preston rejoiced in witnessing 'the team coming around each other taking a bold stand for Christ' and in God 'drawing students to the baptism water.'"

"When public high school football players are compelled to engage in religious activity with their team, the school has violated the Constitution and the trust of the players and their parents," FFRF legal fellow Karen Heineman wrote in a Monday letter to BAPS Superintendent Dr. Janet Vinson. "The team was effectively a captive audience for the evangelists from Battle Creek Church when Broken Arrow High School provided the platform of a football practice. The misused authority of the football coaches and the expectations of compliance and conformity within the team environment did not allow the football players to choose to participate. The fact that a coach felt compelled to be baptized is probably the best example of the coercion induced by this religious spectacle sponsored by your public school on school property."

Reached by phone Friday, the foundation's legal director, Rebecca Markert, said they had not yet received a response from the district. 

Markert said they were made aware of the incident by a concerned citizen, and that while FFRF could potentially bring legal action against the district, she does not believe that will ultimately be necessary.

"This is blatantly unconstitutional. Any school district attorney who takes a look and sees what happened at Broken Arrow High School that Friday afternoon is going to realize the school was in the wrong, and they're going to correct it," Markert said.

A Broken Arrow Public Schools spokesperson said Friday morning they were unable to comment at this time as they were still looking into the incident. Emailed inquiries to several BattleCreek Church clergy and staff, including Preston, were not immediately returned Friday morning.