Anti-religion group condemns tweets by Ole Miss football coach

Although the tweets were sent from private accounts, the FFRF says Ole Miss violated the separation of church and state by promoting them on a website for its football program.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning the University of Mississippi for allowing its football coaches to make “overtly religious” statements on social media.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning the University of Mississippi for allowing its football coaches to make “overtly religious” statements on social media.

In a letter sent to Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter last week, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover complains that head football coach Hugh Freeze “regularly promotes religion on his Twitter page,” providing several examples of posts referencing God and Bible verses.

“Lead us by your truth and teach us 2day, for you are the God who saves us! All day long I put my hope in you. Ps 25:5 - be a blessing 2day," states one of the tweets cited by the FFRF, while another says, “Here’s the best news ever, your eternal standing with God doesn’t depend on the [sic] your goodness, but on God’s unshakable faithfulness.”

[RELATED: U of Florida to keep biblical inscription despite atheist protest]

The FFRF says such messages raise “a serious constitutional concern over religious promotion by the University of Mississippi,” arguing that while Freeze is entitled to express himself as a private citizen, “he may not promote his personal religious beliefs while acting in his capacity as a university employee.”

According to Grover’s letter, the university crossed that line by publicizing Freeze’s Twitter account on a website for Ole Miss football, which the FFRF claims “creates the appearance that the university endorses Freeze’s tweets and the religious promotion therein.”

The letter also objects to tweets published on the website from coach Maurice Harris’ Twitter account, referencing one that reads, "God's comfort soothes us perfectly. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah 66:13."

Grover asserts that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995 that coaches at public schools may not promote religion to athletes, calling on Ole Miss to remind its coaches that they “cannot promote religion to their players or to the public at large while acting in their official capacities.”

[RELATED: FFRF wants Toledo football players to stop pre-game prayers]

The matter is particularly pressing because Ole Miss “serves the least religious population in the country,” the letter contends, though it only provides generic data claiming that “1-in-3 college-aged Americans (18-29) are not religious and about 43% are non-Christian” while speculating that the proportion of religious believers is even lower among the school’s foreign student population.

Teylar Patton, a Criminal Justice major at Ole Miss, told Campus Reform that he believes Freeze should be free to express his religious views through Twitter, saying, “it's his social media and he should be able to express himself.”

[RELATED: Clemson coach: football program doesn’t violate separation of church and state]

“Regardless if he's a state employee or not, he should not have to watch what he tweets if it's not negative or offensive to others,” Patton added, pointing out that “Freeze isn't the only state employee who expresses his religion through social media; many other coaches do it also. It's not like he's forcing his religion on anyone.”

Other students took the opposite stance on the matter, such as Public Policy Leadership major Caleb Pracht, who told Campus Reform that as “a financial supporter of the FFRF,” he is pleased that the organization is taking Freeze and Ole Miss to task.

“I support their inquiry into Coach Freeze's tweets,” he said, explaining that “while I support his right to freedom of expression, I believe that as a public employee he should not favor a particular religious doctrine.”

Overall, Pracht estimated that Ole Miss students “are split 50/50” on the question, suggesting that the FFRF letter could become a hot-button issue on campus.

Campus Reform reached out to the university for a statement or comment on the matter, they said that they do not have a comment on the matter.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10