It takes a lot of chutzpah — or perhaps a lot of ignorance — to publicly brag about breaking the law… but that’s what happened in Florida late last month.
Edgewater High School football coach Mark Duke appeared on a radio show hosted by a minister named Josh Plant. That alone isn’t an issue. But Plant also happens to be the team’s “character coach,” which is basically a euphemism for his self-proclaimed actual job of getting the players to convert to Christianity. That’s not an exaggeration.
The men spoke openly about how much they want to see those conversions — which is why the Freedom From Religion Foundation is now calling for repercussions. FFRF summarizes what they said during the interview:
… It was revealed that Plant has baptized several members of the football team and regularly leads players in bible studies. Duke stated that his goal is to help students “be the men or women that God has called them to be”, and that’s the “number one priority” of the football program with the team’s coaches and the “team’s chaplain.” The coach even said that the administration understands this to be the goal of the program. He explained:
It’s not just winning games. Yes, we are going to be judged by that by the world, but at the end of the day we know we are called to answer to Our Heavenly Father and what He’s given us the opportunity to do. And we get the chance to use the platform of football to help develop and grow our young people into exactly who God’s called them to be and we are going to do everything we can to do that, and that’s the calling on our life and that’s the calling on the people who are supportive of our program.
Plant admitted that the football program is designed to proselytize and that he tries to convert nonreligious students to Christianity:
One of the founding things in our program is that following Jesus is the best way to live. Right, like, I say that some of the guys sometimes, cause I know some of them don’t believe, and I say look, man, I know, but can I just tell you this? If you’ll do it Jesus’ way, whether you believe or not, if you’ll do it Jesus’ way, you’ll ultimately be better… You’ll ultimately be better in every facet of your life.
No doubt some of that is rhetoric more than tangible attempts at conversion. Helping kids become “who God’s called them to be” doesn’t necessarily entail proselytizing. But those tangible attempts also exist.
Beyond that interview, Plant’s church recently went on a mission trip to Guatemala, and the football coaches and many players joined in on what FFRF says was a “school-sponsored” trip. Why is a public school sponsoring a mission trip?
The church made it clear, too, that these weren’t just individuals who happened to be on the team, or who happened to coach the team. This was the team.
It’s very clear what’s going on here. FFRF says that given all this evidence, Plant must be removed as the team chaplain. He sees these kids as targets, not athletes. There’s absolutely no reason, ethically or legally, to have someone on the staff whose only goal is to lure kids into his religion. It wouldn’t be acceptable if Plant were Muslim or atheist, and it shouldn’t be acceptable just because he’s Christian either.
FFRF is also calling for Coach Duke to be reprimanded, at a minimum, for essentially allowing his football team to become an extension of a church. They want all coaches to be reminded that they have no right to impose their religious views on the children.
“Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, agree to allow someone to act as chaplain or otherwise infuse the team with religion because public schools may not promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. “It is therefore inappropriate and illegal for the Edgewater High School football team to have a team chaplain and for coaches to allow and participate in religious activities with students, as this signals a blatant promotion of religion over nonreligion generally, and in this case, Christianity in particular.”
It shouldn’t have to take an outside group, acting on behalf of a concerned parent, to get coaches and administrators to follow the law. Again, if we were talking about any other religion besides Christianity, this would have been stopped immediately. It only ever happens because people mistakenly think this is normal. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
(Image via Shutterstock)