A football chaplain needs to be ejected from the field, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning a Florida school district.
Matt Norman, the husband of a Polk County Public Schools employee, is reportedly acting as a chaplain for the Haines City High School football team. Norman recently proclaimed in a Facebook post: “I am super excited to be serving HCHS as the football team’s chaplain.”
Such a position at a public school is unconstitutional, FFRF underscores.
“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, because public schools may not promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the school district’s legal counsel. “It is therefore inappropriate and illegal for the Haines City High School football team to have a team chaplain, as this signals a blatant promotion of religion over nonreligion generally, and in this case, Christianity in particular.”
Polk County Public Schools cannot give an adult not affiliated with the school access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot permit that access to a minister to advance his faith, FFRF adds. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public schools may not be co-opted, either by staff or outside adults, to proselytize students. Federal courts have accordingly enforced injunctions against school districts who, by action or inaction, grant outside adults access to other peoples’ children to evangelize.
Plus, it is beyond the scope of a public school system to officially endorse a position whose responsibilities include advocating Christianity to students. “The preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,” to quote the Supreme Court. The endorsement of Christianity within the school district’s athletic programs is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians or do not subscribe to any religion.
These are the reasons why FFRF is insisting that Polk County Public Schools immediately do away with the chaplaincy at Haines City High School.
“Officials need to realize that a chaplaincy at a public school is ‘playing foul’ with the Constitution,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No student should be expected to pray to play.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,800 members and a chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community, in the Sunshine State. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.