Clemson's head football coach: program doesn't violate separation of church and state

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the university's football program promotes Christianity.

Coach Dabo Swinney says he has "recruited and coached players of many different faiths," and those "of any faith or no faith" are welcome.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson University’s head football coach, denied yesterday that he has created an unconstitutional blend of church and state in his program.

On April 10, the Freedom From Religion (FFRF) wrote a letter to Clemson University’s Senior Associate General Counsel accusing Swinney of showing “a preference for and an endorsement of Christian religion” while acting as a public employee.

Among other things, the letter complained that the Clemson football team and staff have used coach buses to attend church services and that team has attended breakfasts sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), where Clemson athletes have testified about their faith.

Clemson players have also reportedly been baptized on the football field amid practices, players commonly wear religious regalia during games or write messages of faith on athletic tape.

FFRF claims that this culture is not founded by the student athletes, but rather by Coach Swinney, who has an eight year deal as head coach, worth over $27 million. According to FFRF, Swinney sought out James Trapp, who also serves as the FCA representative on campus, to serve as team chaplain, which FFRF interprets as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Swinney responded Wednesday in a statement released by the university.

“We have three rules in our program that everybody must follow: (1) players must go to class, (2) they must give a good effort and (3) they must be good citizens. It is as simple as that,” Swinney said.

“I have recruited and coached players of many different faiths. Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character.”

A previous Clemson player agrees.

“To me [Christianity] was never forced upon any player. You know I came to Clemson as a Christian and so that right there was not a big force for any kind. As I said in my statement, we have chaplain service just like we do in the NFL, its voluntary, it’s not mandatory,” former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller said last week on Fox News.

It is unclear what Clemson University plans to do as a result of FFRF’s complaint, but Clemson did release a statement.

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” the university said in a written statement obtained by The State. “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.”

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