Atheist Group Accuses Clemson Football Program of 'Christian Worship'

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has sent a letter of complaint to Clemson University alleging that their football program includes "Christian worship."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison has warned Clemson University about the apparent religious content found in their football program.

In a letter sent out last week that was addressed to Clemson Senior Associate General Counsel Erin Swan Lauderdale, the FFRF outlined their argument that "Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson's football program."

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"We are concerned that this comingling of religion and athletics results, not from student initiative, but rather from the attitudes and unconstitutional behaviors of the coaching staff," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick C. Elliot.

"The nonreligious and non-Christian student athletes who have come through the Clemson football program deserve to have their rights of conscience protected."

A major point of contention Elliot has with Clemson is coach Dabo Swinney's decision to bring in 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 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."

Clemson has long been noted for its religious climate. Brad Wolverton of the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote last November that "At Clemson, God is everywhere."

"The team's chaplain leads a Bible study for coaches every Monday and Thursday. Another three times a week, the staff gathers for devotionals," wrote Wolverton.

"Nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game. The players all know the coach's favorite Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: 'Run your race to win, don't just run the race.'"

Swinney became coach of the Clemson Tigers football team in 2008. Since then, he has led the team to impressive records, including an 11-2 record in 2012.

"Clemson has won or tied for the ACC Atlantic Division Championship three of the last four years, something that had not been achieved prior to his appointment as leader of the program," the Clemson Tigers reported last year.

"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."

Regarding the religious rhetoric and practices of the coaching staff, Swinney has stated that there is no coercion in their religious expression.

"I've had Muslims, Catholics - I've got two Mormons on this team right now," Swinney told the Chronicle.

"When we get out on the football field, it's not about if you're a Christian, it's about who's the best player."

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