By Ken Reed

It has become increasingly clear that Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney runs a Christian football program. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that except that his program is at a public university where the constitutional principle of separation of church and state is supposed to be followed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a complaint with the South Carolina school, claiming “serious concerns about how the public university’s football program is entangled with religion.” The FFRF believes Christian worship is interwoven into Clemson’s football program.

Consider that Swinney appointed James Trapp to be the team’s chaplain and gave him access to the entire team for bible study. Trapp has an office at Clemson’s athletic center and displays bible quotes on a whiteboard. He also led sessions on “being baptized” in the athletic building, according to the complaint. The FFRF further contends that Swinney schedules team devotionals.

Swinney has been quoted as telling recruits, “I’m a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don’t have to be here.”

Former Clemson safety Rashard Hall has said, “If you’re there, you’re going to know Jesus, you’re going to know verses in the Bible — it’s weaved in the culture. There’s a drawing-in towards Christianity.”

This is a troubling situation, not just for the apparent violation of the separation of church and state principle, but because of the cultural pressure it puts on players to conform to the coach’s religious views or risk a loss of playing time or possibly even removal from the team.

While the Clemson situation appears to be especially over the top, the intermixing of religion (primarily Christianity) and athletics on sports teams has been a troubling issue for too long at public institutions.

Bottom line: There’s no place for religious pressures –subtle or not so subtle — in sports settings at public schools. The one spiritual principle that coaches should promote during team functions at public high schools and colleges is the Golden Rule.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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