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Here’s a perfect example of why you don’t invite religious leaders to have any kind of affiliation with your public school.

A pastor named Matt Norman recently announced on Facebook that he was going to serve as chaplain to the Haines City High School football team in Polk County, Florida.

I am super excited to be serving HCHS as the football team’s chaplain.”

I think it’s safe to assume he’s not making that up. He probably had a conversation with someone, at some time, that led him to believe all of that was true.

And if it’s true, that would be illegal. Public schools can’t hire Christian chaplains to lead Christian prayers for a sports team. What students do on their own time is their business, but this Facebook post — since removed from public view — made it sounds like some sort of handshake deal had been reached with either the coaching staff or the district itself.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sounded the alarm with a letter to the district:

Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to allow someone to act as chaplain, because public schools may not promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the school district’s legal counsel. “It is therefore inappropriate and illegal for the Haines City High School football team to have a team chaplain, as this signals a blatant promotion of religion over nonreligion generally, and in this case, Christianity in particular.”

Polk County Public Schools cannot give an adult not affiliated with the school access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot permit that access to a minister to advance his faith, FFRF adds. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public schools may not be co-opted, either by staff or outside adults, to proselytize students. Federal courts have accordingly enforced injunctions against school districts who, by action or inaction, grant outside adults access to other peoples’ children to evangelize.

What’s especially interesting is that the district is now trying to distance themselves from Norman, acting like they’ve never even met the guy.

Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Geary told The Ledger that Norman is not a school district employee, although his wife is the HCHS financial secretary. 

“There is no position of team chaplain, and there is no intention of adding this position,” Geary said. “I also wanted to let you know that Haines City High’s principal was not aware that Matt Norman would be posting this message on his personal social media.”

Geary explained that Norman has expressed an interest in volunteering with the school’s football team and, if he does become a volunteer, he will be instructed to not engage in prayer with students.

Geary said Haines City High’s principal and coach “are aware of this and will make sure Mr. Norman understands should he become a volunteer.

Football Coach Pat Herrington said he was unaware that Norman had publicly announced becoming team chaplain.

“I don’t know anything about that. I know you can’t do that stuff anymore like that,” Herrington said. “I don’t know if that’s something he put out on his own.”

Herrington said he knows that adults cannot lead prayers in school.

The fact that the coach and principal were unaware that Norman would post this message is meaningless. Their ignorance doesn’t absolve them of possibly telling Norman he could be a chaplain. But it seems clear that they’re all aware — now if not previously — that having a team chaplain would be illegal.

It’s almost funny to think Norman probably would’ve gotten away with it if he wasn’t so damn cocky about pushing Jesus onto children.

Norman doesn’t seem to be taking this news well. He didn’t respond to a reporter for comment. He removed the content of his Facebook page from the public’s view. And then there’s this:

Matt Norman did not respond to two requests from The Ledger for an interview and blocked a reporter from his Facebook page.

It was not clear whether he was named chaplain by student leaders of [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] or it was a title he gave to himself. He declined to answer any follow-up questions following a Wednesday morning interview.

The West Central Florida FCA chapter did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Just like Jesus, these people… Playing silent and blocking anyone who dares to ask them fair questions.

Norman can’t be trusted around children, period. It seems clear he’s not interested in helping them develop football skills; he just wants to use access to kids to promote his own myth, especially to the atheists and Muslims and Jews and other non-Christians who may be playing on the team. If any non-Christian did what he was doing, there would be a national outcry. We just expect Christians like him to care more about winning converts than doing anything useful.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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