DeSantis’ takeover of high school athletics assaults student freedom

Florida High School Athletic Association

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dismayed that Florida public school students will now be subject to a high school athletic association advancing a Christian nationalist agenda.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law HB 225, which radically transforms the Florida High School Athletic Association, the body that oversees interscholastic sports throughout the states, including both public and private schools. Whereas the association previously had a diverse 16-member board of directors, it will now consist of 12 members, eight of whom will be directly chosen by the governor, effectively giving him control of the entity.

The motive behind this authoritarian takeover is no mystery. The association was attempting to safeguard the rights and well-being of all student athletes, including transgender students and non-Christian students who were being forcefully excluded from interscholastic events. The Florida High School Athletic Association apparently was not moving swiftly enough for DeSantis’ liking to ban transgender girls from sports, and there is no doubt the newly reconstituted board will effectively force trans girls out of high school sports.

The governor also disapproved of the fact that the association has been standing up for the religious freedom of all students by fighting to maintain a policy prohibiting prayers over the PA system at association events. This led to a lawsuit in which a private Christian school sought to impose a prayer on everyone present during an Athletic Association championship event. Because the association is a state actor, it correctly asserted that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits PA system prayers because it imposes one religion’s perspective on all students present and excludes non-adhering students. The school sued the Athletic Association and lost, although it has appealed that decision.

Under the new law, the association will be required to give schools up to two minutes to say their own message over the PA system, which it cannot review except to ensure the message is not “derogatory, rude or threatening.” The explicit purpose of this change is to ensure that association events include Christian prayers over the PA system that send a message to non-Christian students that they are not part of the favored majority.

“This is an affront to religious liberty, and highlights the reason why our public schools must remain secular,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students of a minority religion, or no religion at all, should know with confidence that the state will not impose dogma or divisive religious rituals onto students. If private schools want to participate in a sports league with public schools, under the control of a state-controlled entity, they should agree to play by public school rules.”

FFRF stands with Florida students whose rights and access to public school sports are being trampled by DeSantis and his Christian nationalist allies. Shameful laws like HB 225 are contrary to America’s core principle of freedom for all and will inevitably land theocrats like DeSantis on the wrong side of history.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 2,000 members and the Central Florida Freethought Community chapter in Florida. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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