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Pray to Play report riles up Ala.; legislature proposes unconstitutional law to protect chaplains

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We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are flattered. Alabama Rep. Ford has authored a new, misguided bill that attempts to authorize football team chaplains at public universities. His bill is a direct response to the FFRF’s report, “Pray to Play: How Christian coaches and chaplains are converting football fields into mission fields.” The bill is even named after one of the illegally employed chaplains FFRF’s report focused on, Auburn chaplain Chette Williams.

Apparently, Chette has not been praying hard enough to his particular deity, Auburn has lost its last two games and fallen out of the top 25. Auburn was absolutely trounced by LSU two weeks ago, losing 45-21. And the week before that they barely eked out a win over Jacksonville State. Then again, maybe Chette’s god started listening to reason. As NFL star running back Arian Foster recently put it, “If there is a God and he’s watching football, there are so many other things he could be doing. There are hungry children and diseases and famine and so much important stuff going on in the world, and [god]’s really blessed your team? It’s just weird to me.” Or maybe Auburn should be working on fundamentals and not prayers, after all, nothing fails like prayer.

But back to Ford’s new bill. Recognizing the illegality of these chaplains and the strength of FFRF’s report, Ford is attempting to change the law. But other than using the legislature’s power to remove the chaplains at Alabama public universities, which the legislature theoretically could do, he doesn’t have the power to fix this violation by changing the law. He cannot change the Constitution.

Contrary to Rep. Ford’s understanding, football chaplains are not employed to accommodate players’ religion, but to impose religion. Public universities already accommodate students’ religion through countless religious student groups and worship sites. Sports chaplains are unnecessary and unconstitutional.Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.50.43 AM

As our report points out, 44% of college-aged Americans are not Christian. Even in the South, 39% of college-aged Americans are not Christian. Yet 100% of the football chaplains we investigated promote Christianity exclusively. The chaplaincies are not about student athletes’ religion, but about imposing the coach’s religion upon vulnerable students. Our report quotes, extensively, coaches and chaplains that have said as much.

Rep. Ford argues that numerous private organizations—fraternities, civic clubs, etc.—have chaplains. But the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which separates state and church, applies to the government, not private entities. The military has chaplains—though the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, thought them unconstitutional—because courts have said that the military may accommodate service members in distant countries who cannot worship as they desire. But again, universities already accommodate students’ religious preferences.

It may seem odd to call a 6’5” 250-lb linebacker vulnerable, but he is. Coaches control players’ playing time, scholarships, education, schedules, their finances to a certain extent, and their futures. Students in this situation are, to borrow the words of one federal court, “uniquely susceptible to coercion.” Coaches and players often develop a father-son-like relationship. But that relationship means coaches need to tread even more carefully when it comes to students’ rights of conscience. It should not be used as a license to convert the trusting student athlete to the coach’s religion.

Because of this pressure, Ford is wrong to say, “students are always free to choose not to participate in religious activities.” A perfect example of this coercion was related by the atheist student athlete interviewed by FFRF for the report. The coach asked him to lead the team in a prayer and, even though he was an atheist, he agreed. He violated his own beliefs because the coach asked him to—that is the power coaches hold over players.

Instead of protecting students—the vulnerable population—Rep. Ford is seeking to let those with power impose their personal religion on that vulnerable population. He is seeking to give proselytizing at a state university a state sanction. Fortunately, no state law can trump state or federal constitutions. This bill does nothing to protect the Alabama or U.S. Constitution, universities, or students—it only gives misinformed coaches the impression that they can legally force religion onto their players. They can’t.

The state legislature may not impose religion on students at any state-supported school, much less authorize schools to hire chaplains.

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29 Responses

  1. We’re all sorry you were force fed Christian beliefs as a child. And congratulations on having your “awakening” in which you concluded religion is wrong. But you are actually the one violating the constitution by trying to ban religion. You can’t stand that people practice Christianity. With people like you, it’s always an attack on Christians never any other religion. Clearly this is just a personal vendetta at best. And you’re a lawyer? Wow. You may want to consider a different career path.

    1. Why can’t christians just keep their religion to themselves and pray in the closet like Jesus commanded them to? (Matt 6:5-6). Why the mania for endless proselytization and recruitment, endlessly indoctrinating the vulnerable and the credulous? Why wouldn’t he, in his supposedly infinite wisdom and power, simply make all his creations aware of his existence from birth, instead of relying on horribly unreliable humans to instill “faith” in the face of equally unreliable legends and myths written in a book so full of contradictions and fallacies that only the most gullible and fearful would believe it?

      1. …because once ‘god’ is dragged into the conversation it becomes socially difficult to criticize the idea. For example… when a Xtian highjacks the government to force other Americans into following the precepts of her religion it’s somehow okay for her to do that… because she’s now under ‘god’s authority’ to do so… then she gets a visitation from the Pope… the protector of pedophiles…

    2. But you are actually the one violating the constitution by trying to ban religion.

      Ryan, can I ask if you actually bothered evaluating the facts presented in the article, or is it that you are generally incapable of understanding them?

      it’s always an attack on Christians never any other religion.

      Again, are you sure you want to stick with this level of ignorance or is there any part of you which values critical thinking and objective reasoning, you know, the kind of skills needed to understand the actual truth of a situation, as opposed to simply being a mindless echo-chamber for your dishonest theist conditioning?

      1. Yes, trying to preserve our constitutional rights is “ignorance”. The only ignorant one here is you who can’t come up with a substantive argument but instead only cries about being called out for trying to bend the law to suit your beliefs. Your pompous commentary is tiresome.

        It also appears my comments are getting removed… Big surprise.

        1. //Your pompous commentary is tiresome.//

          And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what we call irony.

  2. Somehow I can’t see a football team inspired by Jainism to be successful. You gotta have that Abrahamic rogue-testicle god behind you in order to want to pulp the opposition.

        1. ‘Ineffective’? Oh? Do you mean the sort of ‘ineffective’ as the kind of commenter who calls Bill Nye, ‘anti-science’ yet fails to support his absurd assertion when called on it?

          Go back to talking to the voice in your head, it is the only one who will never point out your lack of intellectual honesty.

    1. I’m with you. The Bibleholics whine about abortion, contraception,

      evolution, euthanasia, and church-state separation. Stop it!

    2. Hi Frank. By “whining” do you mean fighting to uphold the First Amendment and ensure that the rights of students aren’t trampled? Or were you referring to the prayers said by the chaplains?

  3. The War Prayer:

    “Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

    For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

    We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

    1. “Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man—if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one, perhaps, would desire to associate with, now that Nero and Caligula are dead. in the old Testament His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly. He is always punishing—punishing trifling misdeeds with thousand-fold severity; punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers; even descending to wreak bloody vengeance upon harmless calves and lambs and sheep and bullocks, as punishment for inconsequential trespasses committed by their proprietors. it is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading, by contrast.”

      Mark Twain–1906

  4. 2,000 years now Jesus has been hands-off.
    God doesn’t care about US football, he’s obviously a soccer fan.