Atheists attack Clemson University for having a chaplain and a Christian football coach

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling foul.

Published 16 April 2014  |  
Clemson University

An atheist group has filed a complaint against Clemson University for "promoting Christianity to its student-athletes."

The South Carolina public college is being targeted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for alleged civil rights violations.

The organization filed an open records request in February, and was disturbed by what it found.

"What we have observed in the records is that the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes," Foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliot told The Greenville Times.

"While student-athletes can pray, conduct Bible studies and engage in religious activities, the coaching staff, as public employees, should not be doing that with their student athletes."

The FFRF filed a complaint with the University on April 10.

According to an FFRF press release, football coach Dabo Swinney is accused of taking players and coaches to Valley Brook Baptist Church, scheduling team devotionals, confirming the attendance of the players at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast—during which three players were going to "testify"—and other religious activities.

The FFRF states that they are not against Swinney being a Christian, but the fact that he is ministering to his players.

"He has every right to be a religious person and to engage in these activities," Elliott told The Greenville Times.

"But he doesn't have the right to do that as a part of his university coaching position. There needs to be a complete separation between his religious views and demonstrating that and encouraging that with people under his charge.

"It violates their constitutional rights. Coaches have tremendous influence over players. They make decisions on who has scholarships and who plays and what they do."

The FFRF, a member of Atheist Alliance International, also takes issue with Clemson University for having a chaplain.

"What we'd like to see is the end of this chaplaincy position," Elliot stated, adding that team chaplain James Trapp is a state employee.

"Mr. Trapp, as a paid employee of a state university, may not proselytize or promote religion and may not use his university office to do so," Elliott said in a press release.

Clemson University Chief Public Affairs Officer Cathy Sams did not comment on the complaint, but stated that religious activities are not forced on players.

"No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program," Sams told The Greenville Times.

"It's purely voluntary. Religion and faith is a big part of Coach Swinney's personal beliefs, but it is in no way required. There is no mandatory participation."

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