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Freedom From Religion Foundation complains about Clemson football program

The nonprofit alleges that coach Dabo Swinney crosses the line by using his position to promote Christianity.

Streeter Lecka

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint to Clemson University, citing concerns about how much religious influence coaches have on football players, according to The Greenville News.

According to the foundation, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has promoted a culture in the program that violates constitutional stipulations of the separation of church and state.

A spokesman for the athletic department declined to comment on the letter. Cathy Sams, the university's chief public affairs officer, said her department has not completed its review of the letter but said Swinney hasn't forced his religion onto his players.

The foundation does not plan to bring this to litigation, and according to the article, it does not want to infringe on Swinney's rights of religious freedom. However, it wants to ensure that the Clemson players are protected — for instance, it wants to make sure that some players aren't given preferential treatment on the basis of religion. It also wants to make sure Swinney's position as head coach doesn't pressure athletes into becoming more religious.

"What we have observed in the records 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.


"What we'd like to see is the end of this chaplaincy position and end to Bible distributions by coaches, an end to devotionals scheduled and put on by coaches and staff. The coaches need to step back and just coach (football) and not coach in religious matters."

Under Swinney, Clemson has had an outwardly religious program, which was discussed in a Chronicle of Higher Education feature last year. According to the piece, there are Bible studies for coaches twice a week, three other devotionals each week and a voluntary chapel for players the night before each game. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was baptized in a livestock trough on the 50-yard line after a practice in 2012. Swinney says he is up front about his faith.

Before they ever joined the team, some of them prayed with coaches on the phone during recruiting calls. On recruiting visits, they heard from Mr. Swinney: "I'm a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don't have to be here."

Clemson officials insist they don't force religion on players, and that they are open to people of all faiths. "I've had Muslims, Catholics-I've got two Mormons on this team right now," says Mr. Swinney, a boyish-looking 44-year-old with a straight-talking Southern drawl.

Swinney has previously referenced his religion as part of how he turned Clemson around, and on the day he was introduced as Clemson's head coach, he called his faith the "secret to success," which led him from a walk-on at Alabama to a prominent head coaching position.