FFRF slams 5 more schools with basketball chaplains

FFRF sent letters March 25 to five more public universities that inappropriately employ religious leaders for their basketball teams. The letters follow a March 24 letter and records request to Wichita State University in Kansas. WSU informed FFRF that it was investigating the chaplaincy.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has allegedly appointed his friend, Fr. Ed Bradley, as “unofficial chaplain.” He reportedly travels with the team, sits with coaches on the 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 group that provides “character coaches” and chaplains to basketball programs. The group’s website shows a graphic with 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 chaplain. Oklahoma University lists Scott Thompson as its “character coach.” Both are associated with Nations of Coaches.

The University of Virginia employs Brad Soucie as director of player development. Soucie and Assistant Coach Ritchie 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.” (It was announced April 1 that McKay was returning to Liberty to be head coach.)

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,” Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel told the schools.

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 Dickie put it.

One in three Americans under the age of 30 identifies as nonreligious, FFRF pointed out, making it very likely these chaplains are imposing their religion on students who are not religious and just want to play basketball.

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

Freedom From Religion Foundation