One of Idaho’s most prominent educational institutions has listened to the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding its unconstitutional football chaplaincy.
The national state/church watchdog had written to Boise State University about the football program’s official chaplain, Mark Thornton. Thornton has arranged for post-game prayers on the field with players, led them in chapel the night before games and prayed with players individually before games.
Public schools may not advance or promote religion, FFRF emphasized.
“Government chaplains may only exist as an accommodation of a public employee’s religious beliefs when the government makes it difficult or impossible to seek out private ministries,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Boise State University President Marlene Tromp. “Boise State football players have no government-imposed burden on their religion, so there is no need — or legitimate legal reason — for Boise State to provide a chaplain for them.”
Abolishing the team chaplaincy would not alter student athletes’ ability to pray, but it would prevent some student athletes from feeling coerced into participating in prayers to a deity they may not believe in, FFRF added.
FFRF’s reasoning seems to have scored many points with Boise State, which has pledged to significantly downgrade its chaplaincy program.
“We have been in communication with the Athletic Department to provide some education about this issue and to ensure measures are taken now and in the future to resolve the issue and establish appropriate constitutional boundaries,” the university’s legal counsel recently responded via email. “Mr. Thornton did not travel with the football team to our recent game in Wyoming and the university will no longer include a chaplain in its travel party. Written references to Mr. Thornton as the chaplain of the football team have been or are in the process of being removed and no future references will be made in writing or otherwise.”
FFRF is appreciative about the steps that Boise State is promising to undertake.
“It’s indeed a great start that college officials are shrinking the program because students should not be expected to pray to play,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re hoping that they’ll soon score a constitutional touchdown by doing away with the chaplaincy completely.”
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including members in Idaho. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.