FFRF wants Florida public school to get rid of pastor

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a Florida public high school to remove a pastor acting as school chaplain.

The Vero Beach High School football coach, Lenny Jankowski, employs a team chaplain, Pastor Joe Moore, to preach to his players. The team’s football players and cheerleaders participate in game day prayer breakfasts at a local church, which often include ministers preaching to the football players and cheerleaders with football coaches in attendance. In addition, Moore seems to have access to the school’s other teams, especially the baseball players.

A video posted to the Central Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes Facebook page promoting the Indian River County Fellowship of Christian Athletes (of which Moore is director) indicates multiple breaches of the constitutional wall separating state and church. 

The video begins with a photo of Moore praying with the Vero Beach High football team while coaches, including Jankowski, join in. It then shows Moore leading a prayer at a game day prayer breakfast.

In the video, Jankowski talks about offering Moore a position at the school.

Moore “thought about it for 30 seconds or so and accepted the position, and really from there he has taken it and run so much farther than I ever imagined,” Jankowski says. “It has since turned into just an unbelievable deal; I mentioned about 43 sports teams, at all levels sub-varsity and varsity.”

The context indicates the position referenced in the video is likely football chaplain at Vero Beach High. Jankowski, also the athletic director for the school, suggests that Moore has access to the other sports teams. He states that Moore is considered full time, and the football team’s staff photos support this. 

Assistant football coach/head baseball coach Bryan Rahal explains how the baseball program has also utilized Moore as a chaplain. Moore is given access to the team at baseball games and is allowed to be in the dugout with the team. He leads the team in prayer before baseball games. The players have reportedly even refused to take the baseball field without praying because they have become so accustomed to Moore delivering prayers.

“Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, because public schools may not advance or promote religion,” says FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. “Furthermore, it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or allow someone to lead their teams in prayer. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.” 

Jankowski’s and Rahal’s conduct is unconstitutional because they are endorsing and promoting their religion when acting in their official capacity as school district employees. They represent the school and their teams when they act in their official roles as head coaches of their respective teams. Therefore, they cannot lead their teams in prayer and they cannot employ a chaplain to lead team prayer, either. When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, the person effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf, adds Dan Barker, FRRF co-president.

FFRF is asking the Indian County River School District to immediately initiate an investigation, discontinue the “team chaplaincy” at Vero Beach High, and refrain from employing a “team chaplain” for any of the district’s sports programs. It is asking that Moore’s relationship with schools and employees be severed and that Jankowski and Rahal be reprimanded for violating clear constitutional strictures.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog organization with 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 1,000 individuals in Florida.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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