A Democratic politician in Alabama is putting forward legislation to protect chaplains at public universities after a group claimed their presence was unconstitutional.
Craig Ford introduced the Rev. Chette Williams bill, named after the chaplain at Auburn University.
“Chaplains have been around since before our constitution was written, and they serve a vital role–especially for young men and women who are leaving home for the first time to go to college,” Ford said, according to AL.com. “Yes, chaplains can provide religious-based advice to these kids. But chaplains don’t force kids to participate in religious activities against their will. When chaplains do offer spiritual advice, it’s because the student asked specifically for religious advice.”
The move came just three weeks after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Auburn arguing that the presence of a chaplain in the football program failed to “properly protect your student athletes’ rights of conscience and pose(s) a high degree risk of discrimination.”
“This public university grants him special privileges and unrestricted access because he is a Christian clergyman,” the organization argued, AL.com (2) reported.
“Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the US Congress. The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary,” the university responded in a statement last month.
FFRF has sent similar letters to other universities, including institutions in Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.
The conservative, Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom backs the maintenance of chaplains.
“Simply making these chaplains available does not somehow mean the schools are unconstitutionally endorsing any particular religion or even religion in general. The universities should simply ignore these unfounded demands from anti-religious groups, especially since the courts have upheld similar chaplain programs in a wide variety of other contexts for decades,” the ADF legal council Travis Barham said, AL.com reported.
“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 FFRF letter said.
If passed, the bill would permit governing bodies of public colleges in Alabama to hire a chaplain.