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Florida district halts faculty involvement in student religious activities

Faculty and staff at Clay County Schools [Green Cove Springs, Fla.] were instructed to refrain from participation in student-initiated religious activities, and prohibited from promoting religion in their official capacities after the district received a letter from FFRF on Oct. 26, 2010. Foundation Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote the district, on behalf of area members, about serious state/church violations occurring in the district. A varsity soccer coach for the high school regularly encouraged her players to attend meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and her team participated in an FCA-sponsored Christian "team bonding retreat." The coach ended one e-mail to her team: "Discover and grow strong in the word of God." The previous year, the coach led the soccer team in prayer before each game.

Markert pointed out in her 6-page letter that the coach's constant encouragement for student involvement in " 'student-led' FCA is constitutionally problematic. Prayer before athletic events in your district is illegal and inappropriate and must cease immediately." An attorney for the district agreed with Markert's analysis and responded that the coach and principal were instructed that "there should be no school employee participation in activities such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and 'Meet Me At the Pole' or any other religious extracurricular clubs, organizations, or groups. . . . Additionally, there are to be no e-mails with personal testimony, no encouraging students to get involved with FCA, and no encouragement of any kind by the coach or any other school employee to get involved in any religious activity" (Dec. 17, 2010). — Bonnie Gutsch