Stop proselytizers from meeting student-athletes, FFRF insists to Fla. district

1AFCAOsceola

 

Halt the access you’re providing a Christian group to your athletes, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Florida school district.

The Osceola School District is apparently permitting several outside adults to act as “character coaches” for various athletic teams throughout the district. Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Area Representative Eric Dimmick has been repeatedly granted access to the district’s student athletes, particularly the football team, during school-sponsored events. Dimmick and other “character coaches” have been allowed access to student athletes in team locker rooms and at practices. Dimmick actually describes himself as a “full time missionar[y]” and has further elaborated:

Now, every day I get to see how God will use the ministry of FCA to potentially impact the lives of tens of thousands of students on dozens of campuses throughout Osceola County! With a team of coaches, teachers, churches, chaplains, and character coaches we are sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ like never before on our campuses. My mission field is the classroom, locker room, field, track, pool, and court. I am truly living a dream come true! My love of sports, and heart for athletes and coaches teamed up with my love for Jesus and passion to share His love with others! There is nothing greater than witnessing a generation accept the invitation of Jesus Christ to follow Him!

Coaches may not grant outside adults access to school-sponsored activities to proselytize to students or agree to have a volunteer teach other people’s children that character centers on religious belief, because public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF reminds the school district.

“No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Osceola School District Superintendent Debra Pace. “This conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags. The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for religious groups during school-sponsored events.”

Permitting church representatives regular, or even one-time, access during school hours to proselytize and recruit students for religious activities is a violation of the Establishment Clause, FFRF adds. Courts have granted injunctions against schools for their complacency in such situations. And it is especially important that coaches maintain arm’s length separation from the FCA and its events, since the group has declared its intention to get coaches to “play the role as pastors.”

FFRF is asking the district to commence an investigation into the alleged complaint and take immediate action to ensure that its football program no longer allows outside adults, including FCA volunteers, to have access to its students to evangelize during school-sponsored events in violation of students’ constitutional rights.

“Representatives of the privileged majority religion cannot be provided a special opportunity to spread sectarian religious messages,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This reveals the district’s cluelessness about how increasingly diverse the youth in our country are.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,600 members in Florida and a local chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, 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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