A school district in Florida caved in to the demands of a secular group and banned local ministers and other Christians from serving as chaplains for its schools’ sports teams. After the Freedom From Religion Foundation blasted Apopka High School earlier this year for putting Bible verses on sports gear, allowing chaplains to spiritually motivate athletes and adding religious music to game footage, it recently complained to the school district against these continuing practices and threatened to sue them if the practices were not stopped immediately.
Right after receiving FFRF’s letter, the district quickly circulated a notice across its schools explaining to principals how having a sports team chaplain qualifies as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Even though FFRF has earlier failed to get student-led prayers banned in schools, this time they succeeded in making sure school sports teams are completely free of religious intervention.
Troy Schmidt, a pastor at a local Baptist church, told local media that just before starting his seventh year as chaplain for the football team at Orange County's Olympia high school, “I received a call from the coach. He said Orange County Public Schools is no longer allowed to have chaplains as a part of the football program. ... I could no longer open the Bible, talk about the Bible, talk about God or pray with the team in any capacity. ... They said I could still come and speak, but I wasn’t going to be called a chaplain. They wanted to call me a ‘life coach. ...’ I don’t get any inspiration besides what I get in the Bible.”
Apart from having sports team chaplains fired, FFRF saw to it that Bible verses were banned on school property, Biblical references were prohibited on clothing and religious songs or hymns were not used in school-related videos. The idea of a life coach did not make FFRF very happy either, as the group wanted to make sure Christian adults do not have close access with students. Referring to the word life coach as nonsense, FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel reiterated that the school district could not avoid the problem by using creative wordplay.
Shari Bobinski, a spokesperson for the school district, confirmed sports teams “cannot have chaplains or ministers before or after games leading prayer. Students are more than welcome to lead their own prayers but our faculty and staff cannot be involved nor can we bring in an outside chaplain.”
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