The Freedom From Religion Foundation is redoubling its efforts to stop the unconstitutionally excessive piety in Auburn University’s football program.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog, sent Auburn University an open records request in 2014 asking for information related to its football chaplain, Chette Williams, and the football chaplain program at Auburn. After it exchanged many emails back and forth with an assistant athletic director and submitted a $500 deposit, Auburn cut off communications. To date, FFRF has not received the records it requested under the Alabama Public Records Law.
Auburn still reportedly employs Williams as a football chaplain to proselytize and pray with its football team. So, FFRF is resubmitting its request that Auburn obey the law and provide the records the nontheist group has been waiting on for years.
A number of people recently reached out to FFRF to complain after AL.com posted a video showing Williams leading the Auburn football team in prayer before a football game against the University of Southern Mississippi on Sept. 29. In the video, Williams leads the team in an unmistakably Christian prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you so much again for this opportunity that we have every Saturday to circle up and hook up with each other, but more importantly, to hook up with you. We pray for each family represented in this circle, Father. We pray for those who are traveling to the game, but most of all Father, we pray that your power and presence be with this team today…We would just have a call, and each one of these players would recognize that call today as they go out on this field. And not only that, but to recognize the call in our lives spiritually. Father, we love you. We thank you so much for Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, and it’s in His name.
FFRF would like to remind Auburn that employing a chaplain and giving him unfettered access to a captive audience of football players is unconstitutional. While student athletes are free to pray, either individually or as group, university staff members should not be leading, participating in or encouraging students to engage in religious exercises — or hiring “chaplains” to do so — as courts have repeatedly affirmed.
“Auburn needs to shut down the prayer and chaplaincy that it has permitted for so long in its football program,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “By allowing it to continue, it is giving its official seal of approval to Christian proselytizing that is not only unconstitutional but also alienating to non-Christian and nonreligious athletes. No student should be expected to pray to play.”
FFRF is attaching along with its letter to Auburn University President Steven Leath its 2015 “Pray to Play” report, an in-depth look at the conjoining of religion and football at state schools. A copy was sent to Auburn when the report was published back in 2015, but the information regarding the nature and extent of college football chaplaincies and the legal liability that Auburn exposes itself to by allowing its chaplaincy to continue are still timely today.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including in Alabama. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.