The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist group, is calling on some public college and university football teams to drop their Christian chaplains because the chaplains may be trying to convert the players and violating their First Amendment rights.
The FFRF started this campaign in August 2015 when it released a "Pray to Play" report that said:
Public universities and their employees cannot endorse, promote, or favor religion. Yet, many football coaches at public universities bring in chaplains—often from their own church or even members of their own family—to prey on and pray with students, with no regard for the rights of those students or the Constitution. These coaches are converting playing fields into mission fields and public universities are doing nothing to halt this breach of trust.
FFRF co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a letter to the offending schools: "Even if the chaplaincy were strictly voluntary, that fact does not alter the unconstitutionality of the practice. Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation."
While some schools complied with the FFRF, others did not. In September, the FFRF announced in press releases that it was renewing its objections to the Christian chaplaincy programs and/or promotion of Christianity by Georgia Tech, University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin, University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
During a recent interview with The Christian Post, FFRF lawyer Andrew Seidel said:
If you look back at this, this is not meant to facilitate the free exercise of student religion. It is meant to get the students to be Christians and that is part of the problem.
The fact that it is only Christian chaplains that are promoted is very problematic. The most problematic is how coercive it is. There is no real way for students to opt out of this without some sort of impact on them, whether in the eyes of the coaches or in the eyes of the other players.
Their standing on the team is going to be diminished if they don't participate in the things the coach has said he wants them to participate in.
Seidel added that college football players do not have a burden on their religious freedom like a prisoner or soldier overseas might, and don't need school-funded Christian chaplains.
"In almost all the cases, there are 50, 60, 70 student religious groups on campus or right next to campus that they can freely exercise their religion with," Seidel added. "They don't need to have it imposed by the coach."
Lance Wallace, Georgia Tech's director of media relations and issues management, told The Christian Post that the Georgia Tech Athletic Association "is pleased with the services and support provided by its consultant."
University of Missouri associate athletic director Chad Moller stated:
[I]t's simply a service that is provided to anyone interested, knowing that the vast majority of our kids are from Christian families. Nobody is forced to participate, and we do make it known to our kids that if they have other religious preferences, we will work to help them find someone else to visit with.
Regardless, the per diem and travel has changed, but NOT in response to any outside criticism, simply because we have a new head coach who simply wanted to do things a little differently. We now have a single chaplain, but he no longer travels with us, and thus, gets no per diem.