Orange County Public Schools in Florida have changed a longstanding tradition of allowing local pastors to volunteer their time as high school football chaplains. The religious leaders have now been exchanged for “life coaches.”
Orange County spokesperson Shari Bobinski said, “They cannot have chaplains or ministers before or after games – leading prayer. Students are more than welcome to lead their own prayers but our faculty and staff cannot be involved nor can we bring in an outside chaplain.”
The school policy has also been changed so that teachers and coaches are prevented from participating “in a visible way with the players during student-led prayers,” a memorandum to school staff states.
The changes are in response to threats of legal action from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
“It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer a Christian minister unique access to befriend and proselytize student athletes,” FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district.
In place of chaplains, Orange County has decided to use “life coaches” instead, on grounds that the life coaches would not use any biblical inspiration to guide student athletes.
Pastor Troy Schmidt, Olympia High School’s football chaplain of seven years, said he could not go along with such guidelines.
Schmidt said, “That’s not me. I don’t get any inspiration besides what I get in the Bible. My heroes come from the Bible and I think there is a lot of inspiration in there that can motivate a football player to get out on the field and play their best and be their best.”
Schmidt said that he had never tried to convert students.
“I would speak to the team before the game and give them wisdom, inspiration. I’d be available if there’s any crisis.”
His congregation had even gotten involved with the football team, preparing large meals for the players and coaches before games.
“Faith, family, football – have always gone together. Here’s an organization like this coming in and trying to tear that out,” Schmidt said.
“We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to give up on the team.”
Publication date: August 27, 2014