Clemson Fights Claims Football Coach Is Promoting Christianity

Image: Clemson Fights Claims Football Coach Is Promoting Christianity Head coach Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers celebrate their 25-24 win over LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome.

Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 02:43 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Clemson University has denied its football program is pushing Christianity on its players, saying that the sports staff are "compliant with the Constitution."

Head coach Dabo Swinney has been accused by the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation of fostering a culture in his team that crosses the line between church and state set out in the Constitution, according to The State.

Cathy Sams, chief public affairs officer at the South Carolina university, issued a statement stating that Clemson believes "the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views."

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Her statement added, "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."

The foundation, a Wisconsin-based religious watchdog group, sent a letter to the public university in Clemson, S.C., demanding that school officials stop the "commingling of religion and athletics."

The non-profit organization said that the 21,000-student institution must end the department’s emphasis on prayers, Bible studies and other religious activities, including busing players to local churches for Sunday services, The State reported.

"What we have observed is that the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes," foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott said. "While student-athletes can pray, conduct Bible studies and engage in religious activities, the coaching staff, as public employees, should not be doing that with their student athletes."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, said that the organization learned that the football program had allegedly crossed the church-state barriers from concerned Clemson students.

"Football players should not be subjected to religious tests to play," she said. "The principle is that you cannot compel someone to go to church. These students can go to their own churches."

Swinney, who recently signed an eight-year deal worth $27 million, has been open with his devotion to God and how his faith in Christianity helps him in everyday life, The State noted.

"To be here as the head coach at Clemson, that doesn’t just happen," Swinney said after being named head coach in 2008. "I hope people will really listen to me when I tell them what my secret to success is, and that is to put your eyes on the Lord in everything you do, and believe in yourself, and don’t quit."

The foundation singled out team chaplain and former Clemson Tigers player James Trapp, pointing out that as a paid employee of a state university he "may not proselytize or promote religion."

But a Clemson official said Trapp is a team volunteer "adviser" and he’s not employed by the university, even though he’s listed as campus director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization.

The religious firestorm surrounding the college blew up just as Chad Kelly, the sophomore frontrunner for Clemson quarterback, was dismissed from the team this week for detrimental conduct after reportedly mouthing off to coaches during Saturday's spring game.

Kelly, the Niagara Falls, N.Y., native who's also the nephew of former NFL quarterback Jim Kelly, started Saturday's Orange and White game, but was benched in the second half after throwing two interceptions.

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