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.

  • Tainda

    I get so tired of trying to tell these people that it’s not that we care that they pray in general. The problem we have are the kids who aren’t the same religion as the coach and when a child is made to feel isolated and different it is not right. Children, teenagers especially, are like wild animals and they prey (pray) on the weak.

    It reminds me of the hyena episode on Buffy…

  • Bitter Lizard

    [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.

    Christian entitlement is fine for Christians, so who could possibly have a problem with it? Not the reasoning of a narcissist by any measure.

  • sam

    I suppose if you’re a volunteer coach, and you’re not officially an employee of the state as a school teacher, then the law wouldn’t apply to those people. So let’s find out who loves the game, the kids & their god more than their paycheck. Offer coaches a choice, and let those who give up their pay pray all they want.

  • busterggi

    Poor persecuted coaches – only paid twice what teachers get and not able to lead public church services at government funded events.

  • Stev84

    That’s not how it works. High school football is big business. And not there merely to have some fun or exercise.

  • calesuar

    We should pass a law instead which allows Speakers, Coaches, and Superintendents to shut the fuck up while they do their job.

  • keddaw

    Or even kids who are of the same religion who get the idea that because a school official prays with them then the government is endorsing their religion.

    And then get upset when some kid tries to get the big picture of Jesus taken down from the hallway/big prayer to God taken down/stop prayers at graduation/stop using the local church as a school venue/stop Christian rock bands from preaching in school etc. etc.

  • eric

    I think the important point is whether you’re representing the state, not how much you’re getting paid to represent them.
    Otherwise, civil servants of all types could just forego their salaries in exchange for the ability to proselytize using their position, government resources, targeting both employees and the public. I don’t want the Principal of the school to be allowed to get on the intercom and lead daily prayers, just because he’s independently wealthy. Do you?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I can’t believe how dense Simpson is. Of course he wasn’t offended because they were praying to his god and of course he thought everyone wanted to do it because, one, most likely those that didn’t like it didn’t want to get harassed for not praying and, two, the majority probably thought that praying helped. It doesn’t matter though what the majority wants.

    My response

  • Aureliano_Buendia

    “Will Weatherford replaced Ken Littlefield as the Republican candidate and won despite his name not being on the ballot, after his opponent’s campaign was derailed by a personal health issue. In 2008, he won re-election by default as no opponent filed to run against him. After the election, he was under consideration to become House Speaker in 2012.”

    Wesley Chapel is right up the road from me. Too bad; if I moved to the next county I could run against this buffoon… and might even win.

    Edit: For those unclear about Florida towns and county, Wesley Chapel is the town Weatherford lives in, and is located in Pasco County.

  • C Peterson

    I believe we need a law that prevents theistic legislators from running for office unless Jesus personally appears on every television channel simultaneously and endorses them.

  • Pepe

    You mean, you want congress to be empty?

  • Beth

    Same results as when they are there.

  • Jasper

    I want to change the law such that those lawmakers who violate the constitution are removed from office.

  • C Peterson

    You mean, you want congress to be empty?
    Oooh. I can only dream…

  • JET

    Parents with some knowledge or experience often volunteer as coaches or assistants in public schools. They’re held to the same standards.

  • alanwil2

    Why can’t Christians pray at home or their church? Further, I am tired of Christians telling me that I need to read the bible.

  • tubi11

    As others have said, it’s the capacity you’re acting in, not whether you’re getting paid for it. If you are a coach of a team, and that team represents the school, then you also represent the school and are enjoined from proselytizing.

    Even if you give the school money for the privilege of coaching.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Why can’t Christians pray at home in private, like they’re supposed to?

  • LonesomeDove

    Yeah, god knows that you HAVE to pray that you will win a football game – you can’t win on just hard teamwork and (pardon the phrase) ‘fundamentals’ – it’s all luck and prayer! :P

  • David Kopp

    I find that the Christians that tell you to read the Bible are usually the most ignorant of what’s actually in it.

  • Matt D

    I think the worst part is that their ignorance breeds anger a lot easier than bliss, for any outsider can pop that bubble merely by reading the Bible.

  • Brian

    Both sides are praying for a victory, one of which is going to leave disappointed.

  • Brian

    Why can’t Christians grasp the difference between PUBLIC and PRIVATE schools?

    If you want your faculty and staff to pray with your children, that is fine…send your kid to a private Christian school, that you pay for yourself, and they can pray all day everyday, and put up whatever Christian monuments on campus they want. That is your right.

    Stop trying to hijack Public Schools for your own personal religious beliefs, even if it is in the majority.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    The losing team didn’t pray hard enough, obviously.

  • The Friendly Atheist?

    This blog is called the Friendly Atheist? Christians believe in “nonsense” and religion is a “placebo” effect? Thats not really friendly, is it? I don’t understand why people have to put others down because they don’t have the same ideas as them. As an atheist I don’t make it my job to tell every religious person “Oh btw, all of this that you’re doing? Placebo Effect!” If we really want to bring the world out of darkness we have to drop the petty comments and insults. I think we’re all better than that. We’re not on the school playground anymore.

    That being said, the story mentioned is absolutely ridiculous. This implies that one must be a Christian to play football. You’d think that if they really wanted a Christian-esque Football game, that their churches would just create some kind of league. Kind of funny that they want to pray at all though. I mean its a football game. Wouldn’t God be spending his time looking after the poor and destitute? The sick, the dying? Those in immediate danger? Not suburbia kids running around a field tackling each other for a pigskin.

  • sam

    Yep, I agree with everyone’s replies. I don’t really think anyone in a position of authority should be allowed to initiate prayer in public schools. I’d just like to see all high school coaches denied salaries.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Implying that God doesn’t care about high school football teams offends me. Quit being so militant and inflammatory.

  • Carmelita Spats

    When someone’s superstition claims ANY jurisdiction over MY
    experience, I will eviscerate it. I am particularly virulent when the
    crazy-ass belief system is codified into public policy. Christians
    DO believe in nonsense but you are not obligated to
    inform them of this in every conversation…They talk to a
    who was his own father and sacrificed himself to himself. It seems that
    the Christian MALES are the only ones equipped with an appendage that
    allows them to interpret the Word of God. You need one of those
    appendages to run a mega-church or a Vatican. The appendage appears to
    be some sort of transmitter or antenna to the supernatural realm and it
    gives them all the authority to make shit up. Catholics open wide for a
    mouthful of Savior on Sundays…They eat their God and swallow the Ten
    Commandments in tablet form. All of this is as insane as the belief that
    humans came to Earth in a spaceship piloted by talking, lava-eating,
    sea clams but, again, you are never obligated to correct anyone who
    talks to or wants to marry a clam. That would be mean.



  • SluttyMary

    Why do you think there are poor, starving children?

    God is too busy answering football prayers!

  • Derrik Pates

    Clearly they need less football practice, and more prayin’ practice.

  • Derrik Pates

    But then, how will they know that they all agree on which version of god they’re praying to, unless they can compare prayers aloud? You’re making it hard for them to keep track.

  • BackspinBubba

    More and more Amerikan Taliban bullpoop! All in the name of the founder of the USA, Jeebus!

  • The Other Weirdo

    Don’t blame me for the fact that their God never answers comparative questions accurately. Blame their God Jesus who ordered them to pray in private.

  • dweiss3

    I always get a kick out of the squinty closed eye look of coaches and others leading people in prayer. It’s so fake.

  • dweiss3

    “soon-to-be-returning-god” Ha, ha, ha!
    When that crap was written two thousand years ago the writers were thinking days or maybe weeks.
    Today in the USA 47% believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime.
    These people deserve to be made fun of.

  • Spuddie

    When people use the force government to further their sectarian religious notions, nobody needs to be friendly in response. Its a direct full guns assault on the rights of others and deserves as much hostility as possible.

    “This implies that one must be a Christian to play football.”

    Which is PRECISELY what the coaches are “assuming” when they engage in coercive team prayers.

    “You’d think that if they really wanted a Christian-esque Football game, that their churches would just create some kind of league.”

    Why spend their own funds to do that when they can accomplish the same thing with the money from everyone else?

    “Wouldn’t God be spending his time looking after the poor and destitute? The sick, the dying? Those in immediate danger? Not suburbia kids running around a field tackling each other for a pigskin.”

    Not according to those coaches.

    *Btw the only person with an obligation to be a “Friendly Atheist is Mr. Hemant”. The site makes no such representations for anyone else making comments.

  • TheShadow

    If they don’t pray for the health of the players, someone is bound to be injured during the game! They need that hedge of protection.