- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - A group is questioning the role of religion inside the University of Mississippi football program, expressing concerns that a football chaplain is an inappropriate endorsement of religion by a public university

The Clarion Ledger reports (https://on.thec-l.com/1uE8zhF) that The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wisconsin-based group that seeks separation between church and state, has sent a public records request to Ole Miss.

The request to university attorney Lee Tyner, dated Wednesday, follows an Aug. 29 story by The Washington Post highlighting the role of religion in Ole Miss football.

Foundation staff attorney Sam Grover said the group is trying to determine how much public money is spent on chaplain John Powell and his involvement with the football program. Grover said the group could sue or seek further action.

“The problem with football chaplain is that it’s a direct endorsement by the football team, which is a part of the university,” Grover said. “The problem comes when it’s the university that’s getting involved in promoting religion. In this case it appears the university has a football chaplain who is directly involved with the lives of the players. We will know more after the open records request, but it appears this chaplain is there to promote religion and a particular brand of Christianity to the players.”



Grover said that one problem with any lawsuit would be finding a student or football player willing to sue in the face of a possibly negative reaction.

An Ole Miss spokesman said the school does not have a comment on the matter at this time.

The football team has routinely held Christian worship services on Sundays during the school year since coach Hugh Freeze arrived in 2012, and have been using the team meeting room inside the Manning Center for them.

Powell has worked with Freeze since the two were at the former Lambuth University, a Methodist institution, in 2008-09. According to an Ole Miss Fellowship of Christian Athletes biography, Powell came to Ole Miss in August 2012.

Freeze often quotes Bible verses on his Twitter account

The foundation made a similar request of South Carolina’s Clemson University earlier this year, though it has not advanced beyond the two entities trading letters about the school’s practices under football coach Dabo Swinney. A former player was baptized on a Clemson practice field, and Swinney has continued former coach Tommy Bowden’s tradition of taking the team to local churches.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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