The Freedom From Religion Foundation is questioning the overtly religious social media postings of football coaches at the University of Mississippi.
University of Mississippi head football coach Hugh Freeze regularly promotes religion on his Twitter page, a concerned citizen has informed FFRF. Recently, Freeze has tweeted statements such as "Lead us by your truth and teach us 2day, for you are the God who saves us! All day long I put my hope in you. Ps 25:5 - be a blessing 2day" and "Here's the best news ever, your eternal standing with God doesn't depend on the your goodness, but on God's unshakable faithfulness" via his twitter handle @CoachHughFreeze.
Though FFRF respects Freeze's right to tweet as a private citizen, he may not promote his personal religious beliefs while acting in his capacity as a university employee. The @CoachHughFreeze Twitter handle appears to be an official account used in his capacity as head coach, given the account name and that the university publicizes Freeze's tweets. In publishing the coach's twitter account on the official Ole Miss sports website, the university creates the appearance that it endorses Freeze's tweets and the religious promotion therein.
The official Ole Miss Football webpage also regularly displays coach Maurice Harris' tweets, which are similarly religious in nature. Recently, the university published this tweet by Harris: "God's comfort soothes us perfectly. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah 66:13."
"As a state-run institution, the University of Mississippi is bound by the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which 'mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" to quote the U.S. Supreme Court, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes to University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. "Ole Miss violates that constitutional mandate when it promotes religious statements or allows its employees to promote their personal religious beliefs while acting in their official capacities."
FFRF points out that the 5th Circuit, the controlling court of appeals in Mississippi, has held that coaches at public institutions may not promote religion to student athletes. So, the university's coaches must be made aware that they cannot promote religion to their players or to the public at large while acting in their official capacities.
The University of Mississippi should be particularly sensitive to respecting the rights and conscience of the nonreligious and religious minorities, given that the university serves the least religious population in the country: 1-in-3 college-aged Americans (18–29) are not religious and about 43 percent are non-Christian. Considering how diverse nations around the world are, the percentage of non-Christians among the university's foreign students must be even higher. Remaining neutral on matters of religion creates a welcoming environment for all students.
FFRF asks that the University of Mississippi take immediate action to ensure that Freeze, Harris and the rest of the university's athletic department are made aware that they cannot promote religion while acting as university employees. Furthermore, the university must not promote social media accounts that regularly endorse religious messages.
"A public institution with such a storied past as Ole Miss must certainly realize the importance of the First Amendment," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "It needs to make its employees adhere to the constitutional separation of state and church."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization representing more than 27,000 nonreligious members across the country, including in Mississippi. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.