FFRF calls out multiple violations in Fla. district

 Hillsborough County Public Schools must address numerous constitutional violations occurring in the district, a national state/church watchdog is urging.

Robinson High School has reportedly allowed Ron Satterwhite, director of missions for the Mount Salem-Wyaconda Southern Baptist Association, to act as a chaplain, for its football team for over 10 years. He apparently prays with and proselytizes to students.

Additionally, a local resident has reported that another district school, Newsome High School, permanently displays an advertisement for Next Level Church on school property outside of the time when the church is renting space there.

Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to allow someone to act as chaplain as it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, FFRF reminds the district. For the same reason, schools may not allow religious messages on school grounds. Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.

FFRF has sent a letter of complaint to Hillsborough’s superintendent urging the district to remedy these serious First Amendment violations.

“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line. “When a school permanently displays an advertisement for a church on its property, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, here a Christian message. This alienates those non-Christian students, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the religious messages being promoted by the church.”

To avoid continuing to violate the Establishment Clause, the district must ensure that religious signs are removed from school property and that its faculty, staff and administrators are aware of the full extent of the constitutional barrier between public schools and religion, FFRF advises.

“Public schools must be welcoming to all students, and must stay out of religious proselytizing,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The district must rectify these serious violations of the First Amendment and protect its students’ rights of conscience.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,500 members in Florida and a state chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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