FFRF protests proselytizer in Florida schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes employee who has full access within a Florida school district.

Hillsborough County Public Schools has allowed a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative, David Gaskill, to interact and proselytize with its students without restriction. Gaskill has been involved with the district’s sports programs since at least 2014 and appears to be the schools’ sports chaplain, since he is allowed to visit and pray with or evangelize the sports teams whenever he pleases.

“Public school sports teams cannot employ, even on a voluntary basis, a spiritual leader or chaplain for their teams because public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes in a letter to Jeff Eakins, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools. “Furthermore, it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or allow someone to lead their teams in prayer.” 

2hillsboroughIt is also clear that coaches and staff of the School District are complicit in allowing Gaskill access to the players, FFRF adds. He could not attend practices and games if coaches were not allowing him to be there. The conduct of the coaches involved is unconstitutional because they are endorsing and promoting their religion when acting in their official capacity as school district employees. Therefore, they cannot lead their teams in prayer and they cannot allow Gaskill to lead their team prayer, either. When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, he effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf.

In addition to the constitutional issues, there are issues of safety, propriety, and privacy, FFRF contends. Gaskill manipulates the children, using peer pressure to force children to “commit their lives to Christ” or talk to them about “God’s rules on sex.” There are serious privacy issues when schools allow outside adults to pose for “selfies” and pictures with students, including with their arms draped around shirtless students. These issues are exacerbated because Gaskill posts these photos online. The schools also allow Gaskill to meet with students in “intimate locker room” settings with no other adults present.

Given this long litany of violations and serious concerns, FFRF asks that Gaskill should be banned from the School District’s property and events permanently. Gaskill’s relationship with Hillsborough County Public Schools and its employees needs to be severed, and the coaches that allowed him to proselytize and pray to their teams ought to be reprimanded. Hillsborough County Public Schools must also investigate and halt coach and other staff from participating in, organizing, promoting or sponsoring religious activity for the students.

“This is one of the worst violations by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that we’ve ever dealt with,” says Seidel. “The schools have given Gaskill complete, unsupervised access to proselytize other people’s children.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the constitutional principle of separation between state and church with 23,700 members across the country, including more than 1,200 members in Florida and a state chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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