For all the talk about public high school coaches who think it’s their job to convert players to Christianity, we sometimes forget that some teams even have their own chaplains. They may be unofficial, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all illegal.
That’s why what’s happening at in the Hillsborough County Public Schools (Florida) is so disturbing. Not only is there a chaplain who goes around preaching to anyone and everyone, the story just gets worse the more you learn about it.
David Gaskill is a representative from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and it appears that he’s been given free rein to roam around the schools in the District as he pleases. He goes to sports practices, he walks around the parking lots looking for kids to convert, he’s in the dugout during baseball games, etc.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation documented numerous instances of him doing all this — then bragging about it on social media:
HCPS cannot allow a preacher access to other people’s children so that he can force his religion upon that captive audience. Gaskill is behaving like a religious predator seeking out vulnerable prey.
It is also clear that HCPS coaches and staff are complicit in allowing Gaskill access to the players. He could not attend practices and games if coaches were not allowing him to be there. The enclosed photos also show that several coaches have been personally praying with their teams or inviting Gaskill to pray with the team on their behalf.
If this happened once, it’d be a problem. But there’s proof that it happened dozens of times — and those are just the ones we have evidence of.
None of these events seem to be taking place at an FCA meeting. As an FCA representative, Gaskill could be invited by students to occasionally participate in genuine, student-led FCA meetings or events, but Gaskill has gone beyond what would be allowed.
Wait. It gets worse.
In addition to the constitutional issues, there are issues of safety, propriety, and privacy. He manipulates the children, using peer pressure to deliberately force children to “commit their lives to Christ” (photo 27) or talk to them about “God’s rules on sex” (photo 54). There are serious privacy issues when schools allow outside adults to pose for “selfies” and pictures with students, including with their arms draped around shirtless students (photo 31, 55, 56). These issues are exacerbated because Gaskill posts these photos online. The schools also allow Gaskill to meet with students in “intimate locker room” settings with no other adults present. (Photo 33, 21).
That’s not saying he did anything physically inappropriate, but holy shit, the optics of that are horrible. Why is a random adult, not employed by the school, given this much access to students with the school’s permission?
Wait. It gets worse.
Gaskill also follows students’ lives on social media, commenting on their lives…: “one of my players was living with his girlfriend in his girlfriend’s mother’s house…” (Photo 47).
Ewwwww. Most school districts have policies nowadays about appropriate contact between staff and students, and following students on Facebook and Twitter is a definite no-no.
Wait. It gets worse.
Gaskill has a criminal history that he openly talks about here.
Obviously, a criminal record doesn’t mean you can’t turn your life around. But when an adult who isn’t employed by the school district — and has a file at the police department — is just roaming the property looking for kids to talk to, I’m sure some parents would be rightfully concerned.
“This is one of the worst violations by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that we’ve ever dealt with,” says Seidel. “The schools have given Gaskill complete, unsupervised access to proselytize other people’s children.”
FFRF adds in a footnote to their letter:
Possible conflicts with District policy 1121.01 and Fl. Stat. 1012.32 prohibiting any person convicted of a crime of moral turpitude from “serv[ing] in any position that requires direct contact with students.”
It’s absolutely irresponsible for the District to allow this man this sort of access to kids. How little do they care about the students’ privacy, safety, and religious rights? There are so many ethical and legal violations taking place, it’s hard to know where to begin, but when the documentation is this thorough, District officials really have no choice but to ban this guy from their property for good.
And while we’re at it, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which employs Gaskill, knows very well what’s permissible and not when it comes to public schools. While students are allowed to form prayer groups, for example, adults from the outside can’t come in and lead them in prayer.
FCA obviously knows what Gaskill is doing since he posts about it on Facebook… so why are they okay with it? Either they’re supporting his illegal actions or they have no idea what’s happening right under their noses. Neither option makes them look good.