FFRF calls out Univ. of South Carolina Coach Staley’s pre-game preaching

Dawn Stanley

The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team for their national championship but also warns the University about Coach Staley’s out-of-bounds official religious promotion.

Coach Dawn Staley has continued to violate the Constitution and the rights of players by promoting her personal religious beliefs through the women’s basketball program. FFRF previously wrote to the university last year regarding Staley’s inappropriate conduct. She has continued her practice of preparing “gameday devotional” for players and sharing these chosen bible verses on social media. She has also continued to describe each game as “Jesus versus” whoever the team’s opponent is, or in the case of the tournament, “Jesus v. NCAA Tournament 2022.”

The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored proselytizing in public schools, FFRF points out.

“In Mellen v. Bunting, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over South Carolina, extended the scope from primary and secondary schools to college-aged students when institutional circumstances create a coercive religious environment,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to USC Interim President Harris Pastides. “The court found that mealtime prayer at a state military college (VMI) was an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause given the coercive atmosphere.”


The University of South Carolina’s authority over student athletes is similar to that of VMI in that much of the players’ conduct is closely monitored, directed and critiqued by coaching staff, FFRF adds. Players trying to please their coach surely will feel immense pressure to participate in religious activities and go along with Coach Staley’s proselytizing.

The University of South Carolina takes pride in the fact that it “values diversity, equity and inclusion,” and recognizes that its “campus community can truly thrive only when those of all backgrounds and experiences are welcomed and respected.” FFRF couldn’t agree more. Current and future non-Christian and nonreligious players should feel welcome and respected as part of the women’s basketball team, not be told by their coach that they are on a team that is representing Jesus. Nationally, about 38 percent of young Americans, i.e., students, are nonreligious.

Coaches exert great influence and power over student athletes and those athletes will follow the lead of their coach. This is especially true for powerhouse programs like the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team that has had so much success. That’s why, using a coaching position to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion, FFRF stresses.

FFRF is urging the University of South Carolina to ensure that Staley understands she has been hired as a basketball coach and not as a pastor. The state/church watchdog is also making an open records request for communications and university policies regarding Coach Staley’s religiosity in her official duties.

“Public university athletes should not feel compelled to pray to play,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members nationwide, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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