Florida House Speaker Wants to Change the Law to Allow Football Coaches to Lead Athletes in Prayers to Jesus

This is the Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford:

Will Weatherford (via Florida House)

He’s a Republican. Which is going to become painfully obvious after you hear what he wrote to a public school superintendent the other day:

If a football coach wants to lead a prayer with his players on the field after a game they should be able to do that. I believe that our law we passed (last) year would allow you to set guidelines for it. If not, I will work on a bill for it next year.”

Weatherford doesn’t get how the law works. Including, apparently, the law he passed last year. That legislation — the “Inspirational Message” law, which is really the “Christians are in the majority so we’re gonna pray harder than you” law — gave students the chance to deliver religious messages at public school events provided that they alone got to choose the speaker. It added that school officials — including football coaches — could not participate in or influence the decision of whether a prayer would take place or who would deliver it, a fact that Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning reiterated to his principals last week.

This is the same conversation we had a couple of weeks ago when 32 coaches from the South said they proudly proselytized to their players. It’s illegal, even if they think they’re doing the students a favor.

Another Florida lawmaker and fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson added that he prayed when he was on a high school football team, and he wasn’t offended at all, so what’s the big deal?

[Simpson] said he prayed with coaches and teammates when he played football at Pasco High School.

“I found it was something we all wanted to do, or it felt that way,” he said.

I’m sure it just felt that way. It’s hardly surprising to find a Christian who’s not offended by prayer, or a Christian who doesn’t get how everyone else doesn’t believe in the same nonsense they do, or a Christian who doesn’t understand how non-Christians might be better off keeping their mouths shut and their heads bowed if they want playing time. If Simpson were forced to say a Muslim prayer before every game, maybe he’d feel differently. When he was a player, he probably had no idea just how good it was to be in the majority and how could get away with never thinking about other people’s religious beliefs.

(Simpson later added that he wanted to ensure that “no minority group is offended.”)

Weatherford, on the other hand, said he supported these poor, poor coaches who “were being hurt because they were barred from expressing their religion.”

That’s just not true. No one is stopping these coaches from expressing their faith. They can go to church. They can silently pray to God during a game. They can thank Jesus for a victory. They can wear different colored socks and do a rain dance and use voodoo dolls against the opposition. It all has the same (placebo) effect.

The only thing they can’t do is coerce their players into praying or lead the team in a Jesus Chant. For coaches who live by the playbook and who demand that their players obey the rules, you’d think this rule would be an easy one to follow.

If Weatherford decides to change the law to allow coaches to proselytize to their players, he’s going to be mired in a lawsuit and he’ll lose. The Constitution forbids it and the courts have ruled against it over and over.

But that’s the typical Republican mindset for you: Don’t like the law? Then just ignore it and assume everything will be fine.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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