Tigers coach appointed James Trapp team chaplain and schedules team devotionals. Trapp has led lessons on 'being baptized' in the athletic building as well, something the FFRF says is a violation of the separation of church and state.
A group that has fought against nativity scenes at government buildings and the term “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency, has found a new target: the Clemson University football team.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which claims it “works to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state” has filed a complaint with the South Carolina school over “serious concerns about how the public university’s football program is entangled with religion.”
The non-profit, which lists former Saturday Night Live castmember Julia Sweeney and Ron Reagan, son of late President Ronald Reagan, as honorary board members, contends that “Christian Worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program.
“We are concerned that this commingling of religious and athletic results, not from student initiative, but from the attitudes and unconstituional behavoriors of the coaching staff.”
In the complaint, the group contends:
- Coach Dabo Swinney invited James Trapp to be the team’s chaplain.
- Trapp was given access to the entire team in between drills for bible study.
- Trapp has an office at the atheltic center and displays bible quotes on a whiteboard and organized and led sessions on “being baptized” in the athletic building.
The FFRF also contends that Swinney schedules team devotionals.
In a statement, Clemson’s Chief of Public Affairs Officer, Cathy Sams, said, "We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views.
“Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.
“Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes – which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.
“We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”
This isn’t the first time the group has gone after a college. According to its website, in 2012, FFRF sent a letter to Appalacian State in Boone, N.C., regarding similar violations and the school “agreed that the program’s religious entanglement was coercive and had no legitimate place in the athletic program.”
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