The Bay-Waveland School District Board of Trustees on Monday heard from Rev. Jeffrey Reed from Power House of Deliverance Church about the Friday morning breakfasts the church hosts for the Bay High School Tigers football team.
Reed's comments were in response to a letter from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center/American Humanist Association about BHS Football Coach Eric Collins' alleged "violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Reed said that the football players' arms are "not twisted" to attend the breakfasts as it is voluntary.
Reed said that each breakfast begins with a "word of prayer," and then a "moral story" is shared.
"We don't force scriptures," Reed said.
During the meeting, Reed shared an example of one of the moral stories, the lion with a thorn in its paw.
"Nothing in the forest could help this lion get the thorn out of its paw," Reed said. "And a runaway slave comes along and goes over to the lion."
Reed said that an infection had set into the lion's paw, located in a place that the lion couldn't reach. The slave pulled the thorn from the lion's paw, Reed said.
"The moral of the story was this: We're going to need somebody in life, we're going to need teammates in life that can touch where we're hurting, where we can't touch," Reed said. "And so the story builds the team. This is what we've done down through the years. We've been doing for close to 20 years. I think it's a cowardice move by somebody who complained and wouldn't even give their name. On behalf of Coach Collins, I think he's a wonderful gentleman. There's a fresh breath of air in the atmosphere, he's turned the program around and also I believe he's turned a lot of these young mens' lives around. We are mentors to our community and we've got to put before our young men positive images and positive men whose going in the right direction that can pattern an example in front of these young men."
Reed added that he works in prison ministry and said that about "98 percent of the men there are angry."
"The reason they're angry is that they don't have an example or pattern to follow," Reed said. "We put ourselves out there, give them something to look up to, something to pattern themselves after, something to push them through life in a positive way."
During board comments, Trustee Mike Bell also spoke on the matter and said he felt "compelled to defend Coach."
"Coach Collins is a wonderful man," he said. "In addition to being a wonderful man and 30-year football coach, he's a great mentor and teacher of our young people."
Bell said that his sons also participated in the breakfast event as well as cheerleaders and members of the band.
"It's a community things," Bell said. "It's mentorship, it's fellowship and I don't know how anyone can find fault with that."
Bell said he recently received a message from a friend who said, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
"I think that says it all," Bell said. "If Congress can't forbid, how would we as a district forbid it? Even if we wanted to, which I can't think of a good reason for."
Bell said that he has also received messages that parents are "scared" that Rev. Reed's breakfast program will be "taken away."
"Lastly, I'm not telling anyone else that they can't pray," Bell said. "I don't care if they're Muslim, Jewish, Christian, don't matter to me. It's not my place and it shouldn't be our district's place."
After an executive session, the board approved a motion authorizing board attorney Ronnie Artigues to issue a response to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center/American Humanist Association.