The school year has begun, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a separation of church and state watchdog group, has begun to act on the annual complaints about public universities using taxpayer dollars to provide Christian chaplains that lead the sports teams (usually football teams) in prayer. In some cases, complaints go further, alleging that chaplains proselytize to students and that non-Christian students feel excluded and unwelcome, and fear being ostracized if they speak up or do not participate.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation never addresses these issues unless they receive a complaint. Though they are based in Wisconsin, the organization has members across the nation, and is one of the first places non-Christians are typically directed when they believe that they have been subject to a violation of the separation of church and state.
The organization says that even when prayers and other religious activities are portrayed as optional, to a student athlete, it does not feel like an option. One example cited in their 25 page PDF that fully explains the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s research on the matter and why they address is so strongly is below.
“…Adrian Despres, the chaplain at University of South Carolina, likes to brag, ‘100%’ of players attend ‘voluntary’ chapel. That attendance is not because all the players are Christians or devoutly religious, but because players feel attendance is mandatory, despite claims to the contrary. If a coach wants you to say or do something, you do it.”
AL reports that the University of Auburn has responded, disputing the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s assertions — the school says that contrary to the group’s statements, the university’s chaplain is not a paid employee but a volunteer (the church-state separation group alleges that in many cases these volunteers are paid or compensated in a less direct manner, such as travel, food, and other accommodations) and that his office is in a different building than the organization’s letter mentioned.
Not all of the 25 universities addressed have responded so quickly, though. DawgNation reports that the University of Georgia has not yet responded to the letter, but that the university denies that the chaplain — the brother-in-law of the team’s coach — mentioned in the complaint is in any way officially tied to the school or given free tickets or other compensation.
At least 15 universities were sent letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, so responses from more of these will likely be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
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