FFRF calls for end to UK coach’s unconstitutional religious promotion

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling attention to serious First Amendment violations involving Matthew Mitchell, University of Kentucky’s head women’s basketball coach.

Following numerous instances of religious proselytization by Mitchell, FFRF has written to University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, asking the university to protect its student athletes from unconstitutional religious promotion and ensure Mitchell understands that he has been hired as a basketball coach and not a pastor.

Coach Matthew Mitchell routinely promotes and endorses religion to his team. He uses “encouragements” to share religious messages to student athletes and also shares these religious messages on his Twitter page.

“Don’t copy the behavior or customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think,” a Jan. 24 tweet based on Romans 12:2 read. “Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” It then contrasts the “world’s values” with “God’s values.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has routinely struck down school-sponsored proselytizing in public schools, since it constitutes a government endorsement of religion and violates students’ rights of conscience, FFRF points out.

“Mitchell’s team is full of young and impressionable student athletes who would not risk giving up their scholarship, giving up playing time or losing a good recommendation from the coach by voluntarily opting out of his unconstitutional religious activities — even if they strongly disagreed with his beliefs,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes. “Coaches exert great power and influence over student athletes and those athletes will follow the lead of their coach. Using a coaching position to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion.”

The University of Kentucky should not lend its power and prestige to religion, as Mitchell’s religious activities alienate and exclude a significant portion of students. Nationally, about 38 percent of young Americans identify as nonreligious.

“Students should not be pressured to pray to play,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Matthew Mitchell is misusing his power and his position as a coach at a secular institution.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a chapter in Kentucky. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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