CLEMSON, S.C. — A prominent atheist activist organization has lodged a complaint against the practices of the Clemson University football program, claiming that it is unlawfully ‘entangled’ in Christianity.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to the university, asserting that head coach Dabo Swinney is violating the separation of church and state.
“Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. “We are concerned that this commingling of religion and athletics results, not from student initiative, but rather from the attitudes and unconstitutional behaviors of the coaching staff.”
The letter contended that Swinney selected James Trapp to become the chaplain for the Clemson Tigers, and that Trapp was granted access to the students between drills for Bible study. It also accused Swinney of scheduling devotionals for the team, as well as taking players out to “church day” and a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast.
“When the coach grants the team chaplain access to the entire football team, he violates his duty to remain neutral under the Constitution,” Elliott stated. “By granting Mr. Trapp such access, Coach Swinney again displays preference for religion over non-religion, alienates those players who don’t believe as he does, and creates a culture of religious coercion within the university’s football program.”
But officials with the university told reporters this week that Swinney and others are within their rights and that FFRF is “mistaken in its assessment.”
“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” read a statement issue to the Charlotte Observer. “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.”
Cathy Sams, public affairs officer for the university, made similar comment to the Greenville News.
“No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program. It’s purely voluntary,” she said. “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.”
As previously reported, FFRF also took issue last fall with prayers delivered prior to football games at a public high school in Tennessee, asserting that the invocations violated the United States Constitution and “must be discontinued immediately.” South Pittsburg High School amended its practice of praying over a public address system and began a pre-game tradition called “Meet Me at the 50.”
But as FFRF was unsatisfied with the changes and continued to demand an end to the prayers, Superintendent Mark Griffith told reporters that he was standing his ground.
“We are within the boundaries of the law, and we will continue doing [Meet Me at the 50] until someone tells us otherwise,” he told the Times Free Press. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the population in our county approves of it.”