AMES, Iowa — A prominent atheist activist organization has sent a letter to the president of a secular university in Iowa, accusing its new head basketball coach of “religious coercion” for praying with players and sharing his Christian faith.
The Madison,Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Iowa State University President Steven Leath last week to lodge a complaint about coach Steve Prohm. The organization pointed to a recent Des Moines Register article in which Prohm outlined that he had prayed with his 21-0 team at his previous job at Murray State and planned to do the same at Iowa State.
“I’ll ask them if they have prayer requests,” he said. “It’s not something you’re beating over their head; you want to give them a foundation, so when they leave Ames, it’s not foreign to them when they raise their kids, or have a wife— that they have a strong foundation and a strong faith.”
The publication also noted that when Prohm coached at Murrary State, he used the analogy of Nehemiah 6:3 to inspire his players, encouraging them to “stay on your wall.” Prohm said that he was partly influenced by his mentor Billy Kennedy, who now serves as a coach at Texas A&M University.
“Watching what [faith] meant to him—it kind of re-challenged me that I had to get invested in having a relationship with Jesus, and reading the Bible and taking time each day to do that,” he stated.
Because of Prohm’s comments in the article, as well as other statements made in the past, FFRF sent a letter to Iowa State University to ask that it ensure Prohm is not endorsing Christianity as coach.
“Mr. Prohm’s team is full of young and impressionable student athletes who would not risk giving up their scholarship, giving up playing time, or losing a good recommendation from the coach by voluntarily opting out of his unconstitutional religious activities—even if they strongly disagreed with his beliefs,” the letter stated. “Using a coaching position to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion.”
“Iowa State University must take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Mr. Prohm understands that he has been hired as a basketball coach and not a pastor,” it continued. “We request that Mr. Prohm be educated as to his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause. He may not lead or encourage any religious activities in his capacity as head coach.”
The letter further requests that the university provide in writing the steps that it is taking to “ensure that Prohm is not proselytizing” his team.
FFRF has also sent a letter to members of the Iowa State University basketball team, telling them that Prohm “may be planning to preach and push his personal religious views upon players” and advising players to complain to the university if they are feel that they are being coerced into participating in religious activities.
It is not yet known if the university plans to respond to the atheist activist organization.