One of the nation’s largest nonprofit groups for atheists and agnostics has launched a complaint against Clemson’s football program claiming the team is “entrenched” and “entangled” in religion. The complaint, filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and dated April 10, focuses on Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and team chaplain James Trapp, and it states the program instituted prayers and Bible studies for players from at least 2011 through April 2013. A statement from Clemson to the Observer on Tuesday said it believes to be within its Constitutional rights and believes the group is “mistaken in its assessment.” “We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” the statement read. “Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.” The group disputes how Trapp was hired – he was selected by Swinney – by stating student organizations must nominate a chaplain before the school officials approve it. The FFRF also claims that First Amendment rights concerning the separation of church and state were violated when Swinney scheduled 87 team devotionals between March 2012 and April 2013. Those devotionals, according to FFRF following a public records request, were organized by Trapp, approved by Swinney and led by members of the Clemson coaching staff. Swinney, a professed devout Christian, hired Trapp, a former two-sport star at Clemson who later went on to Olympics and NFL fame, as the team chaplain in 2011. The FFRF claims religion has become “interwoven” into the football program not by the student-athletes, but by the state-funded employees on the coaching staff. “There are churches on every other corner, tax-free, where you can go and pray and you can belong to and you can go to Bible study, but it shouldn’t be through the athletic department,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the FFRF, told the Observer on Tuesday. “But as far as free speech rights for students, you can have Bible study groups on campus, but they’re supposed to be run by students.” The FFRF is a nonprofit company in Madison, Wis., that refers to itself as the nation’s “largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics).” Since its founding in 1978, the organization has lodged numerous complaints against those it views in violation of church and state separation.
Atheist group files complaint against Clemson football program 'entangled' in religion
Raleigh News & Observer | Apr 16