The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group focused on the separation of church and state, has requested that Auburn University do away with the chaplaincy working inside the university’s athletics department. The Wisconsin-based group says the chaplain’s presence at the Alabama university is unconstitutional.
FFRF sent a letter to Auburn University President Jay Gogue outlining its concerns on Aug. 18. The group takes issue with Reverend Chette William’s place within the football program, reported AL.com.
FFRF says the school is failing to “properly protect your student athletes’ rights of conscience,” and that the situation poses a “high degree risk of discrimination,” for students of outside religious affiliations.
“The public university grants him special privileges and unrestricted access because he is a Christian clergyman,” the group said in a report released Aug. 19.
FFRF’s report is based to a high degree on public records it requested from universities as part of its national church and state watchdog agenda. In September 2014, the group sent an open records request to Auburn, and later a $500 deposit.
FFRF said on Twitter the deposit for the records was cashed. The university told AL.com otherwise, and the tweet was deleted.
“We strive for accuracy, to be sure, and if it's not accurate that's not what we want to be portrayed," said FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel.
“The university has refused to provide any records and ceased al contact with FFRF since April 10, 2015. FFRF is now considering an open records lawsuit against the university,” the group said in its report.
Independent research indicates Williams has an office at the stadium, baptizes players and leads the team in prayer, FFRF said, though Williams' office is actually in the athletics department’s student development center.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, said, “No student athlete should be baptized as part of a public university sports program, or be put in the position of feeling they have to pray to play.”
Auburn released a statement on August 20, saying “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.”
In the letter, the group said hat chaplains are a means for coaches to impose religion on their players. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”