The American Center for Law and Justice has sent out a legal letter supported by 81,500 Americans defending football team chaplains from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's claims that they're imposing their Christian beliefs on players. The ACLJ argued that if atheist professors are not considered to be posing an issue to students' rights, neither should sports chaplains.
"University students understand that they will be exposed to a variety of religious and nonreligious views on campus. Sports team chaplaincies pose no threat to the rights of university students to hold their own religious views, any more than does graduation prayer, or for that matter, a professor's avowed atheism," the conservative law group wrote in its letter.
"The Establishment Clause does not compel the expulsion of sports team chaplains who serve voluntarily to meet the spiritual needs of student athletes, any more than the Establishment Clause requires the razing of university chapels that exist to meet similar needs."
FFRF has sent out letters of its own to more than 25 public universities, warning them that chaplains do not have the right to impose religion on players.
"Only 54 percent of college-aged Americans are Christian and many of the teams investigated have non-Christian players, but 100 percent of the chaplains investigated are promoting Christianity, usually with an Evangelical bent. These chaplains preach religious doctrine, including apparently Creationism, to the athletes," FFRF said in its statement.
"Chaplains regularly lead the teams in prayer, conduct chapel services, and more. These religious activities are not voluntary, as the universities claim, because, as the report notes, 'student athletes are uniquely susceptible to coercion from coaches,'" the atheist group added.
FFRF has said that Christian coaches and chaplains are "converting football fields into mission fields," and called on universities to adopt policies that would address this problem.
The ACLJ has accused FFRF of making "outrageous claims," and said that it is hoping its letter will "set the record straight."
"If the angry atheists at FFRF bring lawsuits against any of these universities, the ACLJ stands ready to ensure that FFRF maintains its long record of court defeats. Angry atheists will not be allowed to trample religious liberty on campus," the ACLJ stated.
The petition, titled "Defend Religious Freedom on College Campuses," has garnered over 81,500 signatures as of Friday morning.