Kentucky Mom Says Son Pressured to Receive Baptism on School Trip

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The parents of a 16-year-old Kentucky football player who was baptized along with some teammates during a trip organized by their coach said Tuesday they believe their son may have felt some pressure to go through with the ceremony.

Parents said the voluntary trip was organized by Breckinridge County High School football coach Scott Mooney, who is a member of the Baptist church where the revival was held Aug. 26.

Dannie Ammons told The Associated Press he had no idea his son, Robert Coffey, was being taken to a church in another county on a school bus. The teen told them he was going to see a motivational speaker. Eight or nine other players were baptized at Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church, he said.

"There wasn't supposed to be anything religious," said Ammons, who is Catholic.

Robert Coffey said the furor surrounding his visit to the church is "kind of stupid" and that he decided to go through with the baptism because some of his friends were doing it.

Now, Coffey said he wishes he would have just stayed home.

"I don't want any part of this."

The teen's mother, Michelle Ammons, said her son told her he was using his iPod during the sermon and didn't remember what was discussed.

Forty-seven people at the Southern Baptist service were submerged in water, an act of obedience symbolizing one's acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior and "rebirth" in faith.

"No, it's not sticking," Michelle Ammons, who says she is a Baptist, said about the baptism. "We're just quiet about it. It's not like a topic we talk about."

She said she has heard from other parents who were upset that they didn't get to attend the baptisms.

Parents of at least two other team members told The Courier-Journal newspaper that their children told them the trip would include the church event. Because no permission slips were required, it was up to the children to tell their parents about the trip. Michelle Ammons said her son probably should have been more forthcoming about the trip but no one was told baptisms would be performed.

The church's pastor, Ron Davis, said Mooney had asked him if he could bring his players. Davis said the baptisms were "spontaneous" and had not been planned by a guest speaker giving a sermon that night.

"There was nobody telling them they had to be baptized that night," said Davis, whose rural church in Hardin County has about 1,000 members.

He said the church typically gets parental consent before baptisms, but "I was sure that they were cognizant enough to make that decision," Davis said. He said he wasn't sure if the boys were "16 or 20."

School Superintendent Janet Meeks, also a member of the church, said Tuesday in a statement on behalf of school employees that the coach's use of the school bus after school hours for an outside activity was allowed. He asked to take about 20 players to the church on the bus, the fuel cost was donated and a volunteer drove.

At the end of the service, "nine students came forward and wanted to be baptized," the statement said.

"It was my understanding that the parents knew the nature of the trip and that participation was voluntary," Meeks wrote in the statement.

But Coffey disputed the assertion that students knew they were going to a religious event.

"Nobody ever said there would be a revival," he said.

Michelle Ammons said the superintendent assured her that there would be better communication from the school in the future and that similar trips would require parental consent.

Ammons said the family was consulting an attorney but have not decided whether to pursue legal action.

"It kind of seems like to me this coach is kind of pushing whatever faith he decides he wants to push on them," Dannie Ammons said of the coach.

A constitutional attorney in Kentucky said the coach and the school system broke the law.

"A school cannot promote an endorsed religion," said Edwin Kagin, a constitutional lawyer in Kentucky who focuses on religion cases with atheists. "Doesn't matter if it's poor judgment, it's a crime."

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said most school districts in Kentucky have a policy that allows the use of school buses for extracurricular activities.

"There's nothing inherent in state law that would prohibit" a trip like the one the team members took aboard a school bus.

Gross said the department is aware of what happened but does not plan to investigate the trip.