Public High Schools Sending Students To Christian Camp

Three Florida public high schools are reportedly sending their student football players to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp this summer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, notes on its website that three public schools have scheduled the students' attendance at the camp, which states its mission is to show athletes and coaches "the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of church."

The FFRF wants the school district to investigate what the FFRF calls "state-church constitutional violations."

According to the FFRF, one of the high school's coaches said the camp would "emphasize faith," and also stated that people can benefit from Christian values. The coaching staff reportedly leads the student players in prayers for meals and football games.

The FFRF notes that coaches at public schools (state-owned) cannot lead students in prayers (state-sponsored prayer), or participate in student-led prayers. The FFRF added that this type of religious activity violates the Establishment Cause in the First Amendment.

FFRF lawyer Andrew Seidel wrote a letter to the school district explaining how taking the student players to a Christian camp is basically a government endorsement of Christianity: "Requiring or even encouraging students to attend a Christian camp sends the message of approval of the camp's religious messages to impressionable students. This practice forces children, who may be of varying faiths or none at all, to enter into a Christian house of worship in order to participate in school sports."

The FFRF said allowing student players to opt-out of the Christian camp will not work because the players who do not go are ostracized.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said: "A student should never to chose between the participation in a public school activity and a violation of his or her personal right of conscience. It is shameful that the school district is asking this of its students."

The Florida school district has not commented on the FFRF's letter.

Two state lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would allow more religious activities in public schools.

The Gainesville Sun reported in February that Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley and Democratic state Rep. Kimberly Daniels -- both self-identified Christians -- have sponsored the bill, which tries to expand the religious expressions of school personnel (government employees) on campus.

The bill text states: "A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression ... A school district may not prevent school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times before or after the school day if such activities are voluntary and do not conflict with the responsibilities or assignments of such personnel."

Sources: Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Gainesville Sun / Photo Credit: EnglishTeacher1/Flickr

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