High school football team fires its chaplain after atheist complaints
Florida pastor criticises the Freedom From Religion Foundation: 'I don't think they've read the Constitution'
A Florida pastor who can no longer serve as chaplain of a local high school football team is speaking out this week.
Pastor Troy Schmidt served as chaplain for the Olympia High School Titans for six years, but was told last week that his position was being eliminated.
Orange County Public School District received a complaint in March from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) regarding football players praying with staff at Apopka High School – another school in the district, The Orlando Sentinel reports.
Pastor Todd Lamphere of The Venue Church met with Apopka football players and prayed with them, prompting the FFRF to allege constitutional freedom of religion violations.
The district responded by removing all chaplains from the football teams, and banning adults from leading prayers with players. The students are welcome to pray amongst themselves.
Clergy are permitted to attend district sporting events, but may not talk about God, open a Bible, or pray with players, district spokeswoman Kate Marsh said.
Pastor Schmidt was saddened by the decision.
"My heart is with Olympia. I love the kids," the First Baptist of Windermere pastor told the Orlando Sentinel. "Everything I've done has been centered around the Bible, but I've tried to apply it to football."
"I know I'm speaking to Christians, to Muslims, to atheists. I'm speaking to teenagers who are at that important phase in life where they're making critical decisions."
Schmidt also said that the FFRF may be the one guilty of constitutional violations.
"Well, I don't think they've read the Constitution," he told "Fox & Friends" on Thursday.
"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. 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 FFRF also sent a complaint letter to Seminole County Public Schools this week regarding a football prayer huddle at Seminole High School. Principal Connie Collins said the prayer huddle was student led, however.