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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, has sent letters to five more public universities that inappropriately employ religious leaders for their basketball teams. The letters follow yesterday's letter and records request to Wichita State University. WSU informed FFRF today that it was investigating the chaplaincy.

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has allegedly established his friend, Father Ed Bradley, as the basketball team's "unofficial chaplain." Bradley reportedly travels with the team, sits with coaching staff on the team's bench, and leads the team in prayer before games, at halftime, after games, and while the team travels.

Many university chaplains, including WSU's Steve Dickie, are associated with Nations of Coaches, a religious organization that provides "character coaches" and chaplains to basketball programs. The group's logo is a whistle with a cross on it, and bible verses abound on its website. "Nations of Coaches exists to impact coaches and all whom they influence for the glory of God," says the group's application.

The University of Maryland employs pastor Donnell Jones as a team chaplain, and Oklahoma University lists Scott Thompson as its "Character Coach." Both men are associated with Nations of Coaches.

In addition, the University of Virginia employs Brad Soucie as Director of Player Development. Soucie and Assistant Head Coach McKay have been together since their time at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school founded by Jerry Falwell. Soucie recently spoke at a church about the "significance of men finding their identity in Jesus instead of success, work, or any other source."

Kansas University also has a chaplain, Wayne Simien. Simien quit the NBA to pursue a "passion . . . for Christian ministry and youth athletics," and has said his goal is "to impact the lives through sports and with the message of Jesus Christ."

"Public school athletic teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain because public schools may not advance or promote religion," Seidel told the universities.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted that giving these chaplains secular titles compounds the violation by blurring the line between a legitimate position and an abuse of that position to "[help] basketball players learn how to love God," as Wichita State chaplain Steve Dickie put it.

One in three Americans under the age of 30 identifies as nonreligious, FFRF points out, making it very likely these chaplains are imposing their religion on students who are not religious and just want to play basketball. "Abolishing the team chaplaincy will not alter student athletes' ability to pray, but it will prevent some student athletes from feeling coerced into participating in prayers to a deity they may not believe in," wrote Seidel.

FFRF also requested financial records and policies relating to religion in athletics from all of the colleges.

Three of the schools, Wichita State, Louisville, and Oklahoma, are still alive in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Given that both teams have religious guidance, FFRF is unable to understand how God decided Wichita State would beat Kansas University in the teams' Round of 32 matchup last weekend.

FFRF had been trying to obtain a response from Portland State University in Oregon about its hotel bibles since its original letter of complaint in February 2014. "If guests want to read this religious text during their stay, they should do what everyone else does, travel with the book they want to read. The state need not, and cannot, provide religious literature to citizens," said Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

With help from FFRF's Portland chapter and the PSU Secular Student Alliance, FFRF was able to confirm that the bibles had been removed from rooms, despite the university's unwillingness to admit it had taken action.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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