Clemson University Head Football Coach Dabo Swinney is known to be animated on the field. But members of an Wisconsin-based organization say what happens during practice sessions and on campus concerns them.
For example, they say a Twitter picture of former wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins shows the player being baptized as he's surrounded by coaches and players.
"I think by protecting freedom of religion, you're suppressing religion," Kara Jolly, a Clemson University student said.
She said she doesn't think it's a big deal if coaches decide to lead prayers or talk about their beliefs.
"If a player spoke up then the coaches would be more than willing to stop what they were doing if a player felt uncomfortable," Jolly said.
However, Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with the organization Freedom From Religion Foundation out of Madison, WI, says coach-led religious activities are unconstitutional at state- funded universities.
"We received several reports from people within the state about the program," Elliott said.
He said because of those reports they sent a letter to administrators with the university and the football coaching staff. Elliott said the letter asks coaches to stop leading religious activities.
"Regardless if they're evangelical Christians - which it is in this case. Or if they're Roman Catholics, or if they were atheists, or if they were Muslims. Whatever their views - you can't use that position to influence those underneath them," Elliott said.
He also said Swinney chose the football's chaplain instead of allowing the team to do it, which he says is also a violation under the Constitution to remain neutral.
"You don't want people to feel uncomfortable. But then again you want everybody to be able to express their religious views or lack thereof if they choose," said student Chris Oliver.
Oliver said he understands both views, but said players should always be able to make their own decisions.
"There shouldn't be any ramifications for attending or not attending," Oliver said.
However, Elliott said players may feel obligated to attend. He said the organization would like administrators to teach coaches what they can and can't do.
In the past, members with the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed lawsuits and complaints against school districts in South Carolina under similar accusations.
Clemson University released the following statement on April 17:
We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. 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.
Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ¬ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.
We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.
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