TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Florida’s fourth-largest public school district is cracking down on religious expression at sporting events.
Orange County Public Schools in Orlando has banned team chaplains, signs with Bible references and religious-oriented phrases from appearing on student-athlete clothing. It also prohibited religious music on game tapes.
The new policies aren’t a response to complaints from parents or the school district’s 185,000 students but rather from an out-of-state anti-religion group that launched a campaign against the Central Florida high school more than a year ago.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the school district—roughly the 10th largest in the country—in federal court in June 2013. In March, the group sent a letter to the Orange County Schools’ general counsel alleging “rampant religious activity” at Apopka High School.
The Wisconsin-based organization, which states on its website that it believes social and moral progress is best achieved in the absence of religion, is proud of its work.
“The same Florida school district that is allowing atheists to distribute literature is now abolishing athletic chaplaincies for its teams and removing Bible verses from sports venues and apparel,” the group said in a news release.
Freedom from Religion Foundation has 20,000 members, of which 950 live in Florida.
Todd Lamphere, now out after 18 years as chaplain of the Apopka High football team, said kids will be hurt by this. He said almost $30,000 has been contributed through the Venue Church, which he co-founded, to feed the football team and help students with financial needs and family problems.
“Our focus isn’t proselytizing,” Lamphere said. “We give kids rides [home] after practice and sometimes buy them dinner. Some people just have an issue with everything that has to do with God.”
According to U.S. News and World Report, minority enrollment at Apopka High School is 62 percent, and 43 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged.