The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is stepping up its campaign to urge college football teams to drop its Christian chaplains. The FFRF argues that the chaplains may convert the players to Christianity and thus violate their First Amendment rights.
The campaign started in August 2015 with the release of the report "Pray to Play." The statement contended that athletes are pressured to pray with the chaplains because of the coaches' influence.
The group sent letters to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin and the University of South Carolina, arguing that Christian chaplaincy programs are unconstitutional even if it is voluntary.
"Even if the chaplaincy were strictly voluntary, that fact does not alter the unconstitutionality of the practice," the FFRF stated in its letters. "Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation," it added.
FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel is concerned the players are being coerced by chaplains to convert to Christianity.
"The most problematic is how coercive it is. There is no real way for students to opt out of this without some sort of impact on them, whether in the eyes of the coaches or in the eyes of the other players," Seidel said in an interview with the Christian Post.
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"Their standing on the team is going to be diminished if they don't participate in the things the coach has said he wants them to participate in," he continued.
Seidel stated that the FRFF could take legal action if the schools do not comply with its request to drop the chaplaincy programs. He noted that taking legal action could be difficult because athletes could lose their scholarship if they speak out against the program.
However, Chad Moller, athletic director of the University of Missouri, told the Christian Post that their school does not believe that its chaplaincy program is forceful. He stated that it is only provided to students who are interested.