Back in April, we found out that Middletown High School football coach Chris Wells didn’t know how to separate his preaching from his job. The Freedom From Religion Foundation ended up sending a letter to administrators at the Ohio school district:
In the letter from [Freedom From Religion Foundation] staff attorney Rebecca S. Markert, that was obtained by the Journal-News, she wrote the group with 20,000 members, including 550 in Ohio, was contacted by a concerned parent of a football player. She said the group was told Wells tells his players to bow their heads and “leads” them in prayer before team meals. She wrote that Wells also has encouraged his players to attend his church, invited them to church events and offered them rides.
Markert said the group was informed Wells told his players they would be “saved” if they attended the church events.
At the time, it seemed like that was enough.
Superintendent Sam Ison said the district took the letter “seriously and acted upon it promptly” Wednesday afternoon by having MHS Principal Carmela Cotter and Athletic Director Gary Lebo discuss the situation with Wells. Ison said while the district wants its players to maintain “high morale values,” Wells needs to respect others’ religious beliefs.
Wells, 41, was told to quit talking to his players about religion and he agreed to follow the district’s rules, Ison said on Thursday morning.
Turns out it wasn’t enough. This September, Wells was right back to his old ways:
Wells apparently insisted on prayer after the team’s Sept. 19 game, which the team lost. He reportedly told the players they needed to re-dedicate themselves to God and put their faith in God, telling the players to take a knee and pray. When one player refused, the coach allegedly threw the student off the team.
It resulted in another letter from FFRF to the district:
These allegations are incredibly alarming and upsetting. There is no way Coach Wells can continue to serve as varsity football coach when it is clear his intentions are to proselytize [to] a captive group of high school students and punish those who do not comply with his religious demands… we are gravely concerned that students’ rights are being grossly and egregiously violated.
And, once again, district officials responded by saying they wouldn’t allow it to happen again… again (emphasis theirs):
An attorney for the district responded in November, saying administrators reiterated to Coach Wells that he could not “involve religion in any way in either his coaching or in his involvement with students,” and making restrictions on his conduct as a public employee clear. The attorney said the athletic director was assigned to be more active in practices and games to ensure no additional issues.
“Should you receive any more complaints, please let me know, so that the District can investigate and take further action,” said the district response.
For some reason, their promise doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me…
(Portions of this article were published earlier)