A church-produced evangelical Christian movie is aimed at evangelism and is inappropriate for public schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told Alabama educators.
After receiving complaints, Americans United has urged officials at Tuscaloosa City Schools to stop showing the film "Facing the Giants."
"This movie is not educational; it's evangelistic," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Parents and taxpayers expect our public schools to teach, not preach."
In a Jan. 15 letter, Americans United attorneys note that the film was shown repeatedly in classrooms last semester at Paul W. Bryant High School and that the school's principal plans to continue airing it in the future. The movie depicts the story of a losing high school football coach who turns his struggling team around by convincing them that "With God, all things are possible…."
"Facing the Giants was produced by a Baptist church to bring about a single result: Christian conversion.... [F]ederal courts have consistently held that public-school teachers cannot present religious messages to students or use teaching materials that do so," wrote Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser and Litigation Counsel Heather Weaver.
The AU attorneys said public schools must be neutral when it comes to religion and may not provide religious instruction to children.
The letter cites an array of quotes from the film that are obviously aimed at proselytizing.
For example, the film's coach tells his players that "football is just one of the tools we use to honor God," and that "[God] sent his son Jesus to die for us so we can live for Him." In a locker-room pep talk, he urges his team "to remember what God has brought us…. As long as we honor God, nothing is impossible…. Give your best to God…. Give God the glory."
The film was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The Rev. Michael Catt, senior pastor of the church, told a gathering at the 2007 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that 3,000 people have been converted to Christianity by the movie.
"We never got into it [film-making] to make money," Catt told the Summit pastors' breakfast. "We got into it to spread the gospel."
TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" reported last summer that Catt spoke at a Southern Baptist Pastors Conference in San Antonio and declared that all aspects of the movie were "bathed in prayer." (Robertson called the movie "magnificent.")
Americans United's letter urges the school officials to uphold the separation of church and state and to take prompt steps to ensure that the film is no longer shown to students in the Tuscaloosa City Schools District.