MADISON, Wisc. — A prominent atheist activist organization is seeking to “permanently bench” university chaplains nationwide out of its belief that their presence suggests the endorsement of Christianity at secular institutions.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) released a 25-page report this week in which it takes issue with the idea of football chaplains, stating that “Christian coaches and chaplains are converting football fields into mission fields.”
“Coaches, players, and even chaplains can worship as they want. They can go to church, read the Bible, and pray as often as they like. Nothing prevents them from doing so,” the report reads. “But they cannot use a publicly subsidized position at a university to promote their personal religion. Nor can they use the coercive nature and structure of a public football program to mandate, order, or even suggest that players under their control should worship as the coaches wish.”
It lists 15 schools considered by the organization to have “the most flagrant chaplaincies,” the majority of which are in the Bible Belt. They include the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina, Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi.
FFRF says that it has now sent letters to approximately 20 university officials to explain why it believes that the use of chaplains is unconstitutional.
“It makes no difference if the chaplain is unofficial, not school-sponsored or a volunteer, because chaplains are given access to the team as a means for coaches to impose religion, usually Christianity, on their players,” the organization wrote in its correspondence. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”
Among the universities who were sent the letter and report include Auburn University in Alabama, the University of Georgia and the University of Missouri.
At the University of Georiga, FFRF takes issue with Chaplain Kevin “Chappy” Hynes, who is also the brother-in-law of head coach Mark Richt.
“Our message at Georgia doesn’t change, and that’s to preach Christ and Him crucified,” Hynes stated to DawgSports in 2007. “It’s to win championships for the state of Georgia and win souls for the Kingdom of God, so we’re going to continue down that path.”
He said that he shows love to the students by being there for them and pointing them in the right direction spiritually.
“What do I do as a chaplain? I do Bible studies. I do devotionals. I do discipleships one-on-one with players. Any time there’s a surgery at the hospital, an injury—anything—I’m there,” Hynes outlined.
“I’m a servant. I listen to them,” he continued. “The first thing I do if a player or a coach comes in is I sit down, here or in their office, and I just sit there and listen. The next thing I do is I open the word of God and I say, ‘Okay, I’m going to offer them biblical teaching with a Christian world view. Well, here’s what the Bible says about that.'”
“Hynes needs to be permanently benched,” remarked FFRF co-President Dan Barker in a statement on Wednesday.
The organization also points out its objection to Chaplains Shay Roush and Nathan Tiemeyer at the University of Missouri, where FFRF says that the men and their families were permitted to ride the team plane to the Cotton Bowl, were provided hotel rooms and were granted spending allowances each day.
Responses from any of the 20 universities—if any—have not yet been made public.