A former volleyball player for Delaware State University filed a lawsuit on June 16 saying she lost her athletic scholarship after she objected to religious rules made by her coach.
Natalia Mendieta is suing the university, her former coach and her former athletic director in U.S. District Court because she says was punished for refusing to attend church services and Bible studies made mandatory by the coach.
Coach LaKisya Killingsworth, Athletic Director Candy Young and DSU violated the First Amendment through these actions by requiring religious activities at a publicly funded university, the suit claims.
Mendieta said that shortly after Killingsworth took over as head coach, she started to require players to attend church services with her at Calvary Assembly of God and put “church” on the team’s official schedule alongside the normal practices, matches and tournaments.
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Allegedly, Killingsworth also later handed out Bibles and instructed players to pray before each match, reports Courthouse News Service.
Mendieta says Killingsworth told the team that she “felt they all needed to have more God and Jesus in their lives.”
According to the lawsuit, Mendieta didn’t want to tarnish her relationship with the head coach or risk the chance of receiving less playing time and losing her scholarship if she refused to attend the coach’s church.
“Therefore, with great reluctance, Ms. Mendieta attended services at Calvary with Coach Killingsworth and the rest of the team during preseason," the lawsuit states.
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Mendieta reportedly stopped attending Calvary services and sent Killingsworth a letter on March 24 voicing her concerns about the mandatory religious practices. The lawsuit states that Killingsworth responded telling the player that she didn’t care which church she went to and started to become hostile towards Mendieta, treating her harshly and looking for excuses to kick her off the team.
DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes says the university does not comment on ongoing litigation, but that Killingsworth left DSU to “take another post elsewhere,” reported Delaware Online.
A similar complaint regarding the coach’s emphasis on religion came from another player’s parents in 2014. According to that lawsuit, that player ended up quitting the team. An attorney representing Mendieta says she would like to return and continue her education at DSU in the fall, but the lack of scholarship makes it difficult for her to afford it.
Photo Credit: DSU Hornets