Praying coach must go, says state/church watchdog

Mosley High School Head Football Coach Jeremy Brown, screenshot from WJHG-TV

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter protesting a praying football coach and other inappropriate religiosity in Florida’s Bay District Schools.

Mosley High School head football coach Jeremy Brown “knowingly uses his position to proselytize and preach to students,” charged FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, citing a recent WJHG-TV report in a letter sent today to Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “Brown mistakenly believes this is merely a matter of not being ‘politically correct,’ when in fact it is a gross violation of students’ rights of conscience.”

For Brown, “the most important thing” about coaching has “got to be sharing Christ with the kids.” Brown believes that he is “in the business of earning crowns and not rings,” referring a passage from the bible that advocates “preach[ing] to others.” He measures success by whether or not “every kid on our football team is saved.”

Seidel noted that this was not the first time FFRF had contacted the Bay District Schools about constitutional violations. Previous problems included staff facilitating a Gideon bible distribution during instructional time, where they encouraged students to take the bibles, and allowing pastors to minister and proselytize students. “This persistent and wanton disregard for the First Amendment must end,” said Seidel.

Mosley Head Football Coach Jeremy Brown with athletes on the field, screenshot from WJHG-TV

One athlete said, “I never really had a coach tell me about Christ or anything like that. . . . We pray every day before and after practice so he helped me kind of get closer to Christ and give the glory to Him.”

“The novelty of this experience is likely because Brown’s actions are highly illegal,” Seidel said.

“The district has an obligation to ensure that ‘subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,’ ” he said, citing a Supreme Court case. “Staff and coaches do not have a free speech or free exercise right to promote their personal religion.”

FFRF also raised concerns about whether the school Fellowship of Christian Athletes was truly student-led. “Student clubs must be student clubs, not excuses for adults to promote religion in school,” Seidel reminded the district.

“Coach Brown has knowingly and willfully abused the power of his public office to try and convert other people’s children to his religion,” the letter says. “He is not fit to work in a public school system.” The letter concludes calling for the coach to be dismissed, or at the very least sanctioned and monitored. The district should also instruct staff to “refrain from expressions of religious viewpoints,” and remind them that they cannot participate in student religious activity, including religious clubs, FFRF said.

FFRF is a nonprofit state/church watchdog with about 23,000 members nationwide, including over Florida 1,100 members and a chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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