An atheist group has successfully pressured a school district in Florida to quit allowing local ministers to provide pregame and post-game prayers for football players, threatening a suit over claimed constitutional infractions.
The school district also banned references to biblical verses on campus properties, Fox News reported.
“They cannot have chaplains or ministers before or after games, leading prayer,” Orange County Public School spokeswoman Shari Bobinski said, Fox News reported. “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.”
The school district is also clamping down on other displays of Christian faith. For instance, a new rule implemented this month prohibits teachers and coaches from participating “in a visible way with the players during student-led prayers,” a memorandum from the school stated, Fox News reported.
Bible verses and all references to the Bible are also banned on school property, including on clothing produced by the school. And songs with religious lyrics can’t be used in school-related videos, Fox News reported.
The new crackdown comes at the pressing of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, which threatened to sue the school over the team’s chaplain.
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer a Christian minister unique access to befriend and proselytize student athletes,” FFRF attorney Andrew Deidel said in a letter to the school district, Fox News reported.
The school, in response, banned all chaplains — except for those who agreed to accept the title of “life coach,” Fox News reported.
“They said I could still come and speak, but I wasn’t going to be called a chaplain,” said Pastor Troy Schmidt, head of the First Baptist Church of Wndermere, who normally leads the Olympia High School football program prayers, Fox News said. “They wanted to call me a life coach.”
Life coaches would have to refrain from citing the Bible, Fox News reported.
“That’s not me,” he told the news outlet. “I don’t get any inspiration besides what I get in the Bible. My heroes come from the Bible, and I think there is a lot of inspiration in there that can motivate a football player to get out on the field and play their best and be their best.”