• Anti-Religion Group Demands College Chaplains Be Fired

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an organization promoting the strict separation of church and state, is demanding that a host of public colleges, mostly in the South, dismiss college football team chaplains they say hold unconstitutional sway over students.

    Only 54 percent of college students are self-identified Christians, FFRF says in a report released this week, yet football team chaplains are always Christian and typically evangelical. FFRF describes these chaplains in sinister terms, saying they “prey on and pray with” students, “with no regard for the rights of those students or the Constitution.”

    The organization says that several chaplains are de facto employees, but says it doesn’t matter if they aren’t, because even if chaplains have totally unofficial roles, they enter unconstitutional territory because of the “coercive” power held by football coaches. Because players are eager to please coaches who control playing time and even whether a player’s scholarship is continued, they say, a “pray to play” environment emerges where players feel compelled to take part in religious activities regardless of their personal beliefs.

    FFRF sent letters to several college presidents complaining about their chaplains and demanding that the schools stop using them. Among schools receiving the letters are the University of Georgia, Florida State University, Clemson University, and Louisiana State University. All but three of the schools are in the South.

    The letter sent Tuesday to Auburn University president Jay Gogue was one example, declaring that Rev. Chette Williams currently plays an unacceptable role at the school. While he is not an official employee (he receives a salary from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes), Williams is described as virtually indistinguishable from school employees since he almost always wears Auburn clothing, travels with the team, and has an on-campus office.

    “It makes no difference if the chaplain is unofficial, not school-sponsored, or a volunteer, because chaplains are given access to the team as a means for coaches to impose religion, usually Christianity, on their players,” the letter says. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”

    The letter decries the role Williams has been allowed to play in the spiritual lives of Auburn football players.

    “Williams can still be seen patrolling the sideline and praying with players and coaches during Auburn’s games and practices,” it says. “Williams also brags that he has baptized more than 20 football players, a number that may now be closer to 50.”

    Auburn issued a response Thursday saying that, for now, it has no plans to push Williams away.

    “Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the US Congress,” Auburn said in a statement. “The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary.”

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