Atheist Group Says It's Unconstitutional for College Football Coach to Tweet About God
The nation's leading secularist legal organization is pressuring the University of Mississippi to ban its head football coach, Hugh Freeze, from using his Twitter account to write about his Christian faith and God.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school's chancellor, Jeffrey Vitter, last week asking him to take action to ensure that Freeze and his coaching staff do not use their official social media pages to promote religion.
FFRF attorney Sam Grover argued in the letter that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution for a public entity to promote religion.
Grover said that since Freeze is the head football coach of a public university who uses his Twitter account in his official capacity, he is not allowed to use his @CoachHughFreeze Twitter account to promote his faith or religion.
Freeze regularly uses his Twitter account to promote Christianity. Most recently on Sunday, Freeze used his Twitter account to call people to worship with him on Palm Sunday at Pinelake Church in Oxford, Mississippi.
"Hope you have the chance to worship today with others. Looking for a place near Oxford?Join us @PinelakeOXF 9:15 or 11:00," Freeze wrote on Twitter.
On Saturday, Freeze retweeted a tweet from assistant coach Maurice Harris that quoted 1 John 1:8 and Romans 3:21 to argue that "Perfect people are not real, and real people are not perfect."
Last Sunday, Freeze posted a tweet that reads: "Life is precious and short and today is a gift from God, who never changes."
Although Freeze has the right as a private citizen to write whatever he wants on social media, Grover argued in the letter that "he may not promote his personal religious beliefs while acting in his capacity as a university employee."
Grover also expressed concern over tweets issued by Harris, which are also often religious in nature. Grover noted that Freeze and Harris' tweets are also published on the school's athletics website.
"As a state-run institution, the University of Mississippi is bound by the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which mandates 'government neutrality between religion and religion and between religion and nonreligion,'" Grover wrote, quoting a ruling from the Supreme Court's 1968 ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas. "Ole Miss violates the the constitutional mandate when it promotes religious statements or allows its employees to promote their personal religious beliefs while acting in their official capacities."
"FFRF asks the University of Mississippi to take immediate action to ensure that coach Freeze, coach Harris, and the rest of the university's athletic department are made aware that they cannot promote religion while acting as university employees," he added. "This prohibition on religious endorsement extends to social media messages. If coach Freeze and coach Harris elect to promote religion on personal social media accounts, their messages may not be published on the official Ole Miss sports website."
The Christian Post reached out to the University of Mississippi for its official response to the FFRF letter. However, no comment was received by press time.
The First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm devoted to defending freedom of religion, issued a response to the FFRF letter, calling it "wrong on the law."
"Football coaches do not lose their First Amendment rights simply because they work for a public university," First Liberty senior counsel Jeremy Dys told The Christian Post in a statement. "The First Amendment protects the right of Americans like Coach Freeze to engage in religious expression on their personal Twitter accounts. And our universities ought be places where tolerance, inclusivity, and diversity are promoted. The FFRF has resorted to intolerant bullying in an attempt to silence and censor Coach Freeze. At First Liberty Institute, we defend religious freedom for all Americans.
"We encourage the University of Mississippi to ignore the FFRF's letter."