Atheist organization attacks football prayer, demands emails from Fellowship of Christian Athletes

A religious watchdog organization is demanding the termination of public prayer practices at the University of Tennessee football games along with documentation of email communications between two Mississippi universities and their Fellowship of Christian Athletes program. 

In a cease-and-desist letter to the University of Tennessee, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) urged the football program to discontinue their practice of “opening football games and any other University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) events with prayer.”

“This is a public university, not a Christian club,” wrote FFRF co-president Annie Gaylor. “When you’re not religious or are of another faith and you get prayed at during events, it’s really very grating.”

Despite criticism from FFRF, UT chancellor Jimmy Creek says the university has a constitutional right to conduct a prayer service and references the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, ruling “nonsectarian prayer at public university events does not violate the First Amendment.”

Beverly W. Hooper, a member of UT’s Alumni Board of Governors, says the attack on tradition has her “orange blood” boiling.

“For far too long, we Christians have sat silently by while groups such as Freedom From Religion Foundation have attacked our core values,” she wrote in a letter published in the Knoxville News Sentinel. “This country was founded for us to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

The FFRF has previously submitted open record requests for information from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Mississippi State University (MSU), regarding religious services and affiliation with noted members of the Christian community.

According to The Charion-Ledger, the atheist group is “questioning the role of religion inside the Ole Miss football program” and is demanding extensive information regarding John Powell, chaplain and member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Similar requests were submitted for MSU’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chaplain, Bill Buckley, as well as the university’s baseball chaplain, Matt Jolley.

The FFRF’s demands were sent to Ole Miss attorney Lee Tyner earlier this month, and a copy was obtained by The Charion-Ledger, outlining the group’s demands.

According to the September 11th letter, demands include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes turn over records of all schedules, notices, memos, emails, or announcements related to religious services, prayer gatherings, bible studies, FCA meetings, or other religious activities in which the chaplain was involved.

The atheist group is also prying into the religious activities for football players, staff, or their families by requesting all emails exchanged between the football program and the chaplain.

“This group needs to be prayed against,” said Steve McConkey, president of the sports ministry, 4 Winds. “And if enough people stand up, they can be stopped.”

All three cases come after FFRF sent a letter to Clemson in April, “slamming the university for holding devotionals and an FCA breakfast among other supposed infractions,” according to an article written in The Washington Post.

“The most important thing we have is the platform we have to impact the lives of the people in our program,” said Hugh Freeze, head football coach for Ole Miss, as reported in The Post. “When my life comes to an end, how much does that scoreboard really matter?”

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a non-profit, student group of Christian athletes from across the country. Neither Mississippi State University or the University of Mississippi use public funds to pay football chaplains.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MaggieLitCRO