(Photo courtesy Clemson University)
Clemson University officials are countering an atheist group's accusations that it's imposing Christian beliefs on student athletes who participate in the football program. The university says the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is "mistaken" in its claim that football coach Dabo Swinney is pushing his beliefs on members of the Tigers team.
Robin Denny, spokesman for Clemson, told The Christian Post that the school is asserting its right to religious freedom, and added that the FFRF's allegations of unconstitutional preference for Christianity via the team's chaplain policy are misguided.
"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," said Denny. "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."
Denny also told CP that he feels "the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the U.S. Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views."
"Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary," he continued, "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."
Earlier this month the FFRF sent a letter to the university accusing Clemson Tigers coach Swinney of imposing his Christian beliefs on players by his selection of a Christian chaplain for the team.
"Not only is this a violation of the Establishment Clause, it is also a violation of Clemson's misguided and legally dubious 'Guidelines for Athletic Team Chaplains,'" wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick C. Elliot.
"Coach Swinney is a public university employee; by independently seeking out a Christian chaplain for his football program he has displayed a preference for, and endorsement of, the Christian religion."
Elliot also wrote that the FFRF believes that "the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes."
"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," wrote Elliot.
"What we'd like to see is the end of this chaplaincy position and end to Bible distributions by coaches, an end to devotionals scheduled and put on by coaches and staff."
Since becoming coach of the Tigers in 2008, Swinney has led the team to impressive records, including an 11-2 record in 2012 and multiple ACC Atlantic Division Championships.
"Clemson has had back-to-back seasons of at least 10 victories, another first for the program since the 1987–'90 era. The Tigers are the only ACC team and one of just 13 programs nationally to win at least 10 games each of the last two seasons," stated a Clemson publication.