September 18, 2014

Faith and football: Clemson says program is “compliant with Constitution”

Dabo sideline

Coach Dabo Swinney often speaks openly about his Christian faith.

Clemson University is disputing a freedom-from-religion group’s contention that football coach Dabo
Swinney is promoting a “Christian culture” on the team, and that violates the football players constitutional rights.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics has told Clemson that it believes Coach Swinney is promoting a culture in the football program that violates constitutional separation of church and state.

“Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program,” stated the group’s attorney in a complaint letter.

The group claims that organized bible studies, devotionals, and the distributing of Bibles, and a team chaplain are activities that employees at a public university should not be involved in.

Clemson University released this statement to South Carolina Radio Network Wednesday:

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.