Atheist Foundation Claims Clemson Football Coach Dabo Swinney Violates Players' Freedom of Religion

| by Allison Geller

The atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter of complaint to Clemson University asking it to keep religion out of its football program.

The Foundation claims that coach Dabo Swinney is mixing up football with religion by organizing Bible studies and devotionals and distributing Bibles to players.

"What we have observed in the records is that the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes," said Foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliot.

The Foundation submitted an open records request in February to gain access to emails and other materials showing that the school was blending the lines between church and state.  

It also asks that the university get rid of its chaplain position, occupied by a former Clemson player, James Trapp.

"What we'd like to see is the end of this chaplaincy position and end to Bible distributions by coaches, an end to devotionals scheduled and put on by coaches and staff. The coaches need to step back and just coach (football) and not coach in religious matters."

Cathy Sams, the university's chief public affairs officer, said there’s no evidence that Swinney hasn't forced his players to participate in religious activities.

"I can't comment on any of the specifics in the letter or any of the specific concerns," Sams said. "No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program. It's purely voluntary. Religion and faith is a big part of Coach Swinney's personal beliefs, but it is in no way required. There is no mandatory participation."

Swinney, who has signed an eight-year head coaching deal worth more than $27 million, is open about his Christian beliefs.

“To be here as the head coach at Clemson, that doesn’t just happen,” Swinney said when he was named head coach in 2008. “I hope people will really listen to me when I tell them what my secret to success is, and that is to put your eyes on the Lord in everything you do, and believe in yourself, and don’t quit.”

Elliot says that while the coach Swinney certainly has the right to believe whatever he wants, he violates players’ constitutional rights by inflicting Christianity on them, pointing out that coaches have a “tremendous influence” on players.

"He has every right to be a religious person and to engage in these activities. But he doesn't have the right to do that as a part of his university coaching position. There needs to be a complete separation between his religious views and demonstrating that and encouraging that with people under his charge,” Elliot said.

Sources: Greenville Online, The State