The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an organization advocating the complete separation of church and state, sent letters to several universities this week demanding they dismiss football team chaplains, arguing they hold unconstitutional sway over students.
FFRF sent letters to university presidents complaining about the chaplains and demanding that they stop using them. Among those receiving the letters are the University of Georgia, Florida State University, Clemson University and Louisiana State University. All but three of the universities are in the South.
In a report released this week, the group argued that football chaplains are always Christian even though only 54 percent of college students are self-identified Christians.
The group said the chaplains “prey on and pray with” students, “with no regard for the rights of those students or the Constitution.”
Some football chaplains are de facto employees. But the FFRF argues that even if the chaplains aren’t officially employed by the university, their sway on the teams and their coaches creates a “pray to play” atmosphere where student athletes feel compelled to take part in religious activities to get more playing time and keep athletic scholarships.
One letter sent Tuesday to Auburn University president Jay Gougue declared the Rev. Chette Williams currently plays an unacceptable role at the school. However, he is not an official university employee, and he receives salary from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Daily Caller 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,” FFRF wrote in the letter. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”
The FFRF blasted Mr. Williams in the letter for “patrolling the sideline and praying with players and coaches during Auburn’s games and practices.”
The group alleged that Mr. Williams “brags that he has baptized more than 20 football players, a number that may now be closer to 50.”
Auburn issued a response Thursday saying that it has no plans to dismiss Mr. Williams.
“Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the U.S. Congress,” Auburn said in a statement, The Daily Caller reported. “The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary.”