FFRF Complains Clemson Violates Football Players’ Constitutional - WSPA.com

FFRF Complains Clemson Violates Football Players’ Constitutional Rights

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a formal complaint to Clemson University that Coach Dabo Swinney and team chaplain James Trapp are violating players' constitutional rights by pushing Christian beliefs on them. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a formal complaint to Clemson University that Coach Dabo Swinney and team chaplain James Trapp are violating players' constitutional rights by pushing Christian beliefs on them.

Do Clemson University football players feel they have to pray to play?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a formal complaint to the university that Coach Dabo Swinney and team chaplain James Trapp are violating players' constitutional rights by pushing Christian beliefs on them.

The foundation said it's inappropriate for the publicly-paid team leaders to hold prayer sessions, Bible studies, devotional events and church visits -- incorporating them into the team's regular schedule.

“I think maybe people would perceive that a little more strongly if it wasn't evangelical Christianity that was being promoted, but it maybe was something that was less common in the region -- if you had a Muslim coach pushing Islam, I think people would certainly get the problem," said FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliott.

Clemson senior Ally Bertz said the players know what they're getting into.

“If the players have an issue with that, they're more than welcome to find another university that's more with their lifestyle. They know before they sign up that that's how Clemson does things," said Bertz.

The university put out this statement Tuesday:

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. 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.

Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes – which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.

We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”

Clemson junior Jeff Grabowski said he doesn’t see the problem, as long as the religious activities are voluntary.

“As long as they're not forcing the players to actually take part in any religious ceremonies, there's no real problem. If they were forcing players to do it against their will, that's completely different," said Grabowski.

Elliott said players could still feel coerced into participating because they want to please team leadership.

"Just being 'voluntary' wouldn't necessarily fix the constitutional problem,” said Elliott. “Certainly, coaching staff are making important decisions about playing time, scholarships and everything about the football program."

He said that means voluntary prayer may not feel so voluntary to players who want to get ahead.

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Jenna Troum
Jenna is a general assignment reporter covering Greenville, Pickens and Laurens Counties.
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