An atheist group is claiming victory after convincing a Florida school district to "[abolish] athletic chaplaincies," leading one faith leaders to accuse the organization of not having a firm understanding of the Constitution.
The debate started when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular activist group, sent a letter to Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida, in March, decrying the allowance of football chaplains, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The district put together a response memo and decided that faith-based football chaplains and adult-led invocations would no longer be permitted. Effective this month, only students can lead their peers in prayer, with adults helping in solely secular manners.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
"Having a team chaplain is not permitted as it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in the same manner as a school employee participating in prayer with students," the district's new memo reads. "Again, in this area the law is very clear."
Pastor Troy Schmidt, who has worked for years with players at the district's Olympia High School, appeared on "Fox & Friends" this morning where he decried the Freedom From Religion Foundation's efforts and the purported "life coach" label that he has said would replace the chaplaincy.
"Well, I don't think they've read the Constitution. It's pretty clear that they cannot prohibit my free expression of my faith or the free expression of the coaches to express their faith," Schmidt said. "They're telling us to be atheists when we want to say, 'This is what we believe' and we want to express it freely like the Constitution says."
The faith leader, who is also a consulting producer for the popular gameshow "American Bible Challenge" on GSN, said that the community is upset over the decision to disallow chaplains, noting that he can no longer pray with the team or offer "inspirational pick-me-ups."
"I refuse the title of life coach. I don't want to be turned into an atheist chaplain, which is what they're trying to do," Schmidt added.
Watch him discuss the issue below:
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation disagrees with this sentiment, arguing that the chaplaincy was inappropriate.
"The school cannot give preachers access to a captive audience of public school students for a religious purpose, like prayer," said Andrew Seidel, an attorney for the group. "Does Orange County really expect people to believe that chaplains, now life coaches, will keep their religion and their bible to themselves? Does the school actually want to be in the business of regulating religious speech? We think not."