A Small Victory at the Intersection of Church and State and Sports

A reader sent in this story (identifying info has been removed).

It shows how simple it can be to correct a policy you think is illegal — without the use of lawsuits, angry words, or drawn-out battles:

My state university (I graduated a few years back) has a pretty good football team, is almost always in the top 25, and has a head coach who is very well respected in the university community.

Like any other football program, we have plenty of players who thank God in interviews and on the field for the blessings of talent, luck or whatever it is that let’s them play big time football.

The team even has a chaplain (paid entirely by donations) from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I read on a university sports message board that the head coach of the football team instituted a “No Cussing” policy at practice for coaches. For each offense, coaches had to pay a fine. The fines were then apparently being donated to charity. Unfortunately, the charity seemed to be the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

I posted on the board that I though this seemed unconstitutional and asked if anyone had an idea of who I should send an e-mail to. Naturally, this was met with a large amount of indifference and an equally large amount of indignant frustration that I would even question such a program.

I decided to send an e-mail to the university athletic director, director of football operations and head coach expressing my concerns that this could be seen as a violation of the establishment clause.

The head coach is an employee of a state university and appeared to be compelling his underlings to donate to a explicitly religious organization. I figured better to send a letter raising the question than find out later that the school and football program I love were about to be on the wrong side of a lawsuit.

I quickly received a reply indicating that the situation had been corrected.

I am sure that any coaches who support the FCA will see that their money gets there one way or another, but it will be because they choose to donate, and not because they were compelled by an an authority figure at a state university. Sometimes just a quick e-mail is enough to change the way things are done.

Has anyone else achieved a victory (be it small or large) doing something so seemingly harmless?

  • Valdyr

    Let me first say that of all the expressions of unthinking religiosity, I’ve always found crediting God with sports victories one of the most breathtakingly stupid. Does no one espousing such nonsense think of the implications?

    I’m reminded of your excellent posting on Albert “I don’t believe in all that science stuff” Pujols with the link to the interview where he credits God with his baseball successes, even going so far as to claim the hand of God struck down one of his rivals with a serious injury. Really, I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse to try to get people to follow their ridiculous beliefs to their logical conclusion. Sometimes, like Pujols, they lie down and revel in the madness rather than feeling embarrassed and considering they might be mistaken.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    Yes, but I agreed not to talk about it publicly. :(

  • Godfrey Zone

    Considering how athletes are so notoriously superstitious (wearing good luck charms, going through elaborate pre-game rituals, etc), it’s only natural that they are subscribers to the biggest superstition of them all… religion.

    Unfortunately, I do know of someone who got a national brand pet store chain (Petco, I recall) to pull a radio advertisement because they were using a religious song or hymn with words changed to advertise the store. I guess it works both ways!

  • Mariana

    On an unrelated note, is anyone else seeing the Google ad at the top of the main blog page that goes “We’ll pray for you by name and need”?

    I think Google needs to fine-tune its advertising targets here…

  • Japanther

    Actually, I’m trying right now. It’s small-scale too, but I think I’m going to lose this battle. Army Chaplains are always spamming my work email inbox with ” Bible Study tomorrow at 1630. All soldiers encouraged to attend…. Take a break and refresh and renew your spirit!”

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go into it further here, but I hope it goes well.

  • Abstruse

    College football message boards are the pinnacle of anti-intellectualism. The submitter should have known better that to even insinuate he disagreed with the policy in any way.

    I too, am seriously annoyed with what I perceive to be proselytizing by the coach of my alma mater. WVU, for the record.

  • Mike

    I decided to send an e-mail to the university athletic director, director of football operations and head coach expressing my concerns that this could be seen as a violation of the establishment clause.

    This establishment clause garbage is about to make me throw up. Let me post the First Amendment for the benefit of all our readers:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    So will someone please show me WHERE in the first Amendment it states that there is a so-called separation of church and state!?!? That’s right, it doesn’t. The First Amendment, ironically, is being used to oppress religious freedoms and freedom of speech – the very things that it was designed to prevent. When congress passes a law stating that prayer is not allowed in school, or teachers cannot teach from the bible, etc., it is passing laws that the first amendment EXPLICITLY states that it is not allowed to pass! Does anyone else not see the irony in this?? Here’s an idea: perhaps the problem is not in allowing religious activities in schools, but having state-funded and run institutions of learning in the first place. The level of education has been dumbed down to the lowest common demoninator, and we did just fine without them for hundreds of years, thanks.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/StephanGoodwin Stephan Goodwin

    Actually, Mike, as you posted the first amendment says:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    That means no level of government can make a ruling for or against religion (yes, even though it says Congress). The only thing that is constitutional, therefore, is a separation of church and state. When the school (a government institution) instituted a rule that gives money to a religious organization, they were making a rule “with respect to religion.”

    We can’t do that.

    The “Establishment clause” is shorthand created by the courts to highlight this aspect of the First Amendment.

  • Valdyr

    Here’s an idea: perhaps the problem is not in allowing religious activities in schools, but having state-funded and run institutions of learning in the first place. The level of education has been dumbed down to the lowest common demoninator, and we did just fine without them for hundreds of years, thanks.

    Don’t even think for a second that you can pretend that people like you are against public education out of some deep concern for quality and standards. What irks you is not quality, but content: it’s not based on Christianity. You are upset because secular public education gives children access to the marketplace of ideas rather than leaving them to languish in the ignorance of religious indoctrination. I bet you envy the Amish, huh? No education beyond the 8th grade, especially not in science. Gosh–just imagine how many little warriors for Christ we could raise up if we copied that glorious system!

    Our primary education is lagging behind the rest of the developed world, but it’s not because our high-school biology classes don’t show videos by “Dr.” Kent Hovind or because our math teachers don’t insist that pi is exactly 3 in accordance with Biblical teaching.

    As for your asinine argument that we “did just fine” without public education, do you hold the same attitude towards modern medicine? How about computers, telephones, automobiles, mechanized agriculture? After all, we did just fine without those for thousands of years, right? The fact that humanity can survive without something does not make it worthless.

    If you seriously think America would become anything other than the laughingstock of the world if it abandoned public education, you’re delusional.

  • Bacopa

    Why should the fine go to the FCA? Why not go to Kiva where some crazy dude wants to buy carding combs to enlist his stepdaughter and aunts in a scheme to undercut the Angora wool market?

    I do not claim my Kivas as deductions, nor will I claim any Kiva paybacks as income. It’s all well within the scope of a standard IRS personal exemption. But what will happen if people start putting 10K into Kiva? The IRS will have to take notice. Fine, assess appropriate taxes in these cases. If Kiva is as good as it says it is, we can handle deductions and taxes, though I dodge both at this time as my Kiva activity is insignifigant compared to the IRS standard deduction

  • BMcP

    Were these colleges all donating through this rule because this is something they decided to do together? If so I cannot see how this violates any part of the first amendment. If school employees want to donate cash to their religious charity of choice of their own free will, it doesn’t equate the university endorsing that religion. I think you were being way too anal on this. Are you even a part of the football program?

  • Mike

    When the school (a government institution) instituted a rule that gives money to a religious organization, they were making a rule “with respect to religion.”

    Stephan, I would agree with you *if* the school in fact had instituted such a rule. It wasn’t official school policy, nobody was being forced to give money against their will, and the coaches were donating the money of their own accord. So where’s the problem? The problem with the “Establishment clause” is that it’s being used to restrict the very freedoms that the first amendment was designed to protect.

    As for Valdyr:

    If you seriously think America would become anything other than the laughingstock of the world if it abandoned public education, you’re delusional.

    Hmmm…you mean it’s NOT the laughingstock of the world already?? Perhaps America isn’t, but our K-12 system surely is. But in case you missed my point, let me spell it out for you: one of the reasons we have a conflict in the first place is because gov’t is treading in areas of our lives that it ought not to tread. Should we have a gov’t controlled education system? Doesn’t that seem a bit dangerous to you? Oh you may agree with what’s being taught in schools TODAY, but just imagine a right-wing gov’t indoctrinating your children with religion, pro-life issues, etc. By giving gov’t control of the education system you are essentially letting gov’t teach your children with what IT deems important.

  • Mike

    A Small Victory at the Intersection of Church and State and Sports

    And another defeat at the intersection of freedom and government control…

  • Valdyr

    Should we have a gov’t controlled education system? Doesn’t that seem a bit dangerous to you?

    It’s misleading to say we have “a government-controlled education system”. This is not an authoritarian state where textbooks are checked for doctrinal purity and censored before publication. And the only alternatives to public education are inferior. Do you support everyone homeschooling their children? Few people have the time, resources, or training to do this effectively, even assuming they’re unemployed and have no social obligations whatsoever. Do you support throwing everything into the machinery of the “free market” and letting that solve the matter? Great–private schools that only wealthy families can afford, with curricula and employment standards decided by a private businessman with no oversight or accountability.

    Honestly. You’re being a bit alarmist here. Are you also afraid of “government-controlled road building”? After all, what if they start putting armed National Guardsmen at checkpoints along every major highway, because… they’re the government, man! That’s what they do! A lot of arguments against “socialist” (ooh, scary word!) programs seem to assume that the population is essentially helpless and that the government is both able and very willing to impose some kind of fascist control on the nation in one fell swoop, if only they were allowed to establish a government-funded health insurance company or something similarly insidious. No, obviously the government shouldn’t control everything (or even most things) but it’s for the benefit of everyone, especially the poor, to have some government-provided services like libraries, roads, welfare, and, yes, schools.

    I definitely agree that the government is intruding into aspects of our lives where it shouldn’t, though. For instance, upholding the concepts of “indecency” and “obscenity laws” and denying homosexuals the rights enjoyed by all other American citizens, based on religious opinions about what is and isn’t yucky.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X