In response to allegations that by leading pregame prayers he was in violation of the First Amendment, University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell has said players will now decide on their own how to prepare for games.
“To ensure UT football continues to bring people together, players will determine on their own any personal preparation methods to help them mentally prepare to play the game we love,” Campbell said in a statement, reported Patheos’ Friendly Atheist Blog.
The comments were in response to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Wisconsin-based nonprofit group sent a letter to UT President Sharon Gaber on May 21 over what it believe is a constitutional violation.
As the basis for the complaint, FFRF used a 2012 UT YouTube video in which a GoPro mobile camera attached to the kicker’s helmet showed footage of Campbell, a Catholic, leading the Lord’s Prayer for the team.
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FFRF said the prayer was a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.” It had been alerted of the issue by a “concerned alumnus.” FFRF asked the team to stop immediately but has not taken legal action.
The Blade spoke to three experts on the First Amendment, all of whom agree with the claim that the coach was in violation of its principals. One of the experts, a professor emeritus at UT College of Law, Howard M. Friedman, also serves as an editor at a popular blog on the separation of church and state, called Religion Clause.
In an interview, he said that because the coach was speaking as a university official, he cannot endorse a particular religion.
“It’s really a question of whether they’re speaking on behalf of the university or they’re speaking in their private capacity,” the professor stated. “Here, it’s pretty clear (Campbell) is not speaking in his private capacity.”
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Nagi Naganathan, interim president at UT, did not mention prayer but said that the school was satisfied with Campbell’s work as head coach.