Hillsborough says volunteer can pray with students away from campus

Published Aug. 30, 2016

TAMPA — This time, it's all right for David Gaskill to pray with the students.

That's the word from the Hillsborough County School District, which this week answered the second complaint this calendar year about the self-styled evangelist from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Gaskill, 55, described in a Facebook post how he prayed with football players from Wharton High School at a fundraising car wash on Aug. 13, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis.

The letter from attorney Andrew Seidel said Gaskill wrote, lightheartedly, that he had a dirty car and a message to share, so the Saturday event came at a convenient time.

According to the post, Gaskill arrived with a cooler of Gatorade and asked, "would anyone like to pray?" About 20 teens joined him enthusiastically.

He then spoke with them about making good choices. He is shown in one of the pictures that were posted.

District officials considered the complaint, especially in light of a controversy in April that involved dozens of social media posts showing Gaskill praying with and preaching to students at area schools.

But this situation was different, they concluded.

"This was an event which occurred outside the district parameters," wrote chief of staff Alberto Vazquez. The photos do not show the school, but a commercial shopping area in the background.

READ: Documents in the complaint against an evangelist who prayed with public school students

For the past year, the district has dealt with questions arising from its relationship with Idlewild Baptist Church and the on-campus activities of organizations such as First Priority, Young Life and Huddle Touch.

After the initial complaint about Gaskill, the district banned him temporarily from campuses and required everyone in his organization to go through training.

Separately, district leaders instructed administrators and office staff in the do's and don'ts surrounding faith-based organizations.

For example: Children can pray or discuss religion before school and during non-instructional times such as lunch and club days. However, the groups should not be led or dominated by adults. Teachers cannot pray with the students, as they are authority figures at the school. Nor can principals pray with teachers, for the same reason.

District officials were also concerned initially that Gaskill had not gone through the proper screening, and had two criminal convictions in his past.

But the convictions, one involving possession of drug paraphernalia and the other for stalking his former wife, were both misdemeanors. In both cases, they represented plea deals from arrests that happened a decade ago.

"He has been cleared to come to the schools and volunteer," said T.G. Taylor, the district's chief community relations officer.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or