The first rule of breaking the law has to be “Don’t brag about it online.” That memo never got Niko Belavilas, the apparent “team chaplain” of the Springstead High School football team in Dade County, Florida, who posted a picture on Facebook earlier this month of students on the team getting baptized.
In case there’s any doubt, he even helpfully captioned the picture “Baptisms+Public school+During school hours= REVIVAL.” Nice of Belavilas to leave the smoking gun in plain sight.
There’s video, too:
Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is rightly demanding the district put a stop to it. In a letter from attorney Christopher Line, FFRF explains the concern and warns the school to stop this proselytizing immediately — and they include pictures and videos as evidence of the illegal actions:
… Belavilas also posted a video on Youtube2 where he explains, “We got these baptisms. We’re in a public school. This ain’t even legal in some states. So God’s doing it. So public school plus baptism plus school hours that means straight fire of God Holy Spirit revival in Jesus’ name.” The video then shows students walking out to the school’s football field, where another coach explains, “we getting baptised today, baby, praise Jesus.” Belavilas proselytizes to the students, and at least one coach, before baptising students, and a coach, on the school’s football field, during what he described as “school hours.”
Hernando County Public Schools must ensure that this school-sponsored religious endorsement by coaches and staff ends immediately. Belavilas cannot be the team’s chaplain and given his conduct, can no longer be part of the team in any capacity. The team’s coaches should be reprimanded, and if they are not willing to immediately cease infusing the football program with religion, they should be terminated. All coaches and staff should be instructed regarding their obligations as public school employees.
I know I’m a broken record on this, but just imagine the national outrage that would ensue if we were talking about any non-Christian religion. If a Muslim coach did this to students, or an atheist coach told students to stop believing in God and believe in themselves instead, there would be hell to pay. But when a Christian “coach” paints targets on students’ backs and thinks football practice is just a prelude to conversion, he has no business being around children.
This isn’t even ambiguous. If the school doesn’t stop it voluntarily, a lawsuit will force their hand. The real question, though, is how this was ever permitted in the first place.