Monday, March 30, 2015

Religious Chaplains in NCAA Basketball

Article: http://www.theglobaldispatch.com/freedom-from-religion-group-targets-ncaa-basketball-teams-for-having-chaplain-82735/

            Recently, the Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to file lawsuits on a handful of public universities that have religious chaplains assigned to sports teams.  The list of schools includes some big names like Louisville, Wichita State, Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma and Virginia.  Some schools openly fund a team chaplain while other universities use techniques to avoid suspicion of religious establishment.  Some schools try to give more secular meanings to these job titles.  For example, Virginia has a coach listed as the “Director of Player Development” who spoke later at Liberty University on the importance of people finding themselves through Jesus rather than perseverance and hard work.  In addition, Oklahoma has Scott Thompson listed as a Character Coach.  At first glance, this title might appear to mean a coach devoted to keeping team spirit high.  However, character coaches are associated with the religious organization  “Nations of Coaches” which has bible verses on its website and a whistle with a cross as its logo.  Wichita State also has a coach associated with the Nations of Coaches organization.  The head coach of the Louisville basketball team named his friend, who happens to be a priest, the team’s unofficial chaplain.  Kansas University has a chaplain who retired from the NBA to change the lives of athletes “with the message of Jesus Christ”.  The University of Maryland also openly employs a pastor as their chaplain.  He happens to be associated with the Nations of Coaches, too.

            In Virginia’s case, I believe the Freedom of Religion Foundation would need more evidence to support their case for an Establishment violation here.  Accusing the school of using a misleading job title to portray secular purposes might be true.  However, saying the coach spoke at another university on his belief of Jesus is not enough evidence to support any violation here.  I believe they must find inconclusive proof, such as forced team prayers, to have a case for an establishment violation here.  In addition, if the coach has all the necessary credentials, like the Kansas chaplain that quit the NBA, it would be even harder to prove any violation.  There is no law against hiring a coach with the necessary credentials and allowing him to speak his mind on religion matters.  However, Kansas listed this man as a chaplain. Therefore, I believe the Freedom from Religion Foundation would have a case here for an establishment violation because it is for the purpose of further aiding religion.  I believe they also have a case for a violation by Oklahoma as well as Wichita State, who both chose to use more secular job titles like Virginia did.  The reason these are better cases for establishment is because these coaches are listed as Character Coaches.  Although this title might seem facially secular, it is directly linked to the religious organization Nations of Coaches.  Therefore, the public university’s funds, which come from the hard work of people from all different religious and nonreligious backgrounds, shouldn’t cover the salaries for these coaches.  This is why the Freedom from Religion Foundation would also have a great case for an establishment violation against the University of Maryland.  Here is a case of a publicly funded university openly paying a pastor as their chaplain who happens to be associated with the Nations of Coaches, as well.  Finally, I do not think the Freedom of Religion Foundation would have a great case against Louisville.  Although he is a priest, it is unofficial because the school does not pay him.  I believe it is fine to have an unofficial team chaplain if some of the players and coaches enjoy having one to go to when they feel the need.  However, like I said about the Virginia case, any evidence of forced prayer or similar activity could bring lawsuits for violations of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, whether this particular chaplain is officially connected to/paid by the school or not.  Any coach hired by a school must be there for the secular purpose of coaching basketball.

12 comments:

Molly H. said...

I think that this case would be a completely different matter if these universities were religious organizations, but considering that many of the schools with assigned religious chaplains are non-denominational, including large state schools, the teams should not be allowed to have a team chaplain that is funded by the school. If the chaplain is not paid for by the school, then there frankly is no issue for the Freedom of Religion Foundation to argue. I think it is wrong to have a team chaplain in general, considering that it is highly unlikely that every single player and staff member associated with these teams are practicing the same religion as the chaplain. There is a difference between well-wishes before games, which I know a lot of teams partake in, and praying for positive results, which only predominately religious university's teams participate in. Since many of the chaplains in this case are volunteers, aka not funded by the school's money, there really is no violation of religious freedom. I do not think it is right for coaches to allow it, but there is no violation of rights occuring.

Sam Cohen said...

I think you were smart to bring up the connection between economic funding and religion and furthermore, correct in your assessment of that connection. If a publicly-funded school pays a chaplain to preach the values and beliefs of one particular religion, the school is sending the message that it not only supports that religion but also believes that that particular religion will help the team win, therefore making it more beneficial and better. If the school asks a chaplain to preach or send a message without paying that religious figure, then the message sent is that the school will allow it but is not calling for it. While some of the players may not agree with or connect with that message religiously, I would argue that the school, and thus the state, is not to fault for the inequality or non-unity, for neither economically or outrightly supported the figure but rather, the coach let the figure in and he agreed to speak for free.

Trevor T said...

I agree that in the case where a public school is paying the salary of a coach that is explicitly there to act in the role of a chaplain, that there is clear violation. I believe that someone listen as a "character Coach" or someone not on the University pay roll that gives a non-denominational prayer is justified in doing so. Some members of the team could find it an essential component, and those that do not feel the same way would certainly not be obligated to listen. Similar to how public space could be used for religious affiliated message, and the school is by no means endorsing that action or religion, I believe that a coach should be able to give a non-denominational prayer to those who want to hear it, as long as it is clear that he is not paid by the university itself. Allowing someone off the university payroll to give a prayer to those who want to hear it is by no means an establishment of an official state religion, and to not allow this prayer to be offered would be more threatening to a problem with hostility of religion rather than establishment

Alex L. said...

I agree that having a religious figure such as a chaplain on the payroll for a public college basketball team appears as if it a blatant example of establishment. Nonetheless, if the whole team wants a prayer-I do not believe it should be prohibited-whether the person leading the prayer is paid or not. Although I realize the players that comprise the team do not usually choose how money is allocated-perhaps there can be an effort to direct funds to pay for a chaplain instead of another team sweatshirt. Although these student-athletes go to a public university they do not need to check their religion at the door. Notwithstanding, I generally believe, like Trevor above, that any spiritual leaders at public universities should remain unpaid.

Ana M. said...

I don’t necessarily think this is an Establishment of Religion. Simply because these “Character Couches” are religious does not mean that they are preaching their religious beliefs on everyone. Religion is the foundation of many secular morals that shape our society. It would definitely be a violation of the Establishment Clause if these chaplains were preaching their religious beliefs to unwilling players. However, there does not seem to be evidence to support that.

Will P. said...

I believe that the use of public funds to support the hiring of a 'Character Coach' is a complete farce. There is clearly a religious intention behind the hiring of someone and giving them this title. I think that it is unfortunate that there needs to be a separation in this situation however. If the coaches and players wish to have a spiritual coach in some capacity, i wish it could be constitutionally viable. However, a public university cannot allow this to occur, due to the public funding necessary. IT is clear that in sever circumstances the coaches attempted to beat the system with false titles, however I agree that it should not be allowed. This is excessive entanglement of religion and public schools. If a voluntary priest is desired, without payment, I see no constitutional issue.

Emily C. said...

Taking an accomodationist approach, I would argue that a public university can constitutionally pay a chaplain to religiously advise a team so long as advisors from all religious faiths that are requested are present. If a player expressed interest in receiving counseling from a team rabbi for example, the university would have to employ the rabbi in addition to a chaplain.

In the Virginia and Oklahoma cases, I think the job description of the "Director of Player Development" and "Character Coach" matters significantly. If the purpose of these coaches is to ensure that the players are playing with character and developing admirable qualities, I would take no issue with a public university paying such coaches as the purpose is secular.

I also think that the Louisville case is entirely constitutional as the chaplain is not receiving any monetary benefit, so it is clear that the university is not establishing a religion.

Adam Drake said...

These universities are blatantly attempting to get around establishment by using these seemingly secular titles for these individuals. However, there is a clear religious motive here as each of these individuals are associated with the majority faith. Tax money cannot go these individuals at a public university. Had this been at a private institution this would not be an issue. I agree with Will when he said if there were requests for a volunteer priest or something of that nature I believe it would be constitutional, but to pay the salaries of these men with public money is not.

Ben K. said...

I do not believe there was any violation of the Establishment Clause when a university pays a chaplain or other religious figure as long as all religions are granted their own form of a chaplain. This can be seen plainly at Bucknell University. Currently, Bucknell hires various different religious figures to perform various religious services. While Bucknell is a private institution, this same trend of hiring religious personal to meet the student’s religious preferences can be seen all across the country. As long as not one religion is being discriminated against it cannot be said that the government, through providing funds to public universities, is establishing one religion over another. In reference to the basketball team chaplain, I believe that as long as a Muslim player or a Jewish player can request access to and be given the ability to have their own religion’s version of a pastor perform services as the current chaplain does, I see no issue of establishment.

robert bryson said...

I find it difficult to take a stance on either side of the issue without more details on how involved they are with the team. Many sports teams have a locker room tradition of praying before a game. However, these typically are not motivated by any particular religious denomination, but rather in good faith and team camaraderie. That being said, if the Chaplain is there preaching the message of Jesus Christ, than the I believe there is a violation of the Establishment Clause no matter what hidden secular title they are being given. These are public state schools and therefore they receive government funding. As a result, they need to be more secular and keep religion off the courts.

Courtney W. said...

I think that this does not go against the Establishment Clause. In my opinion, and as Emily said above, as long as any chaplain requested is present, I don't see a problem. Chaplains can boost moral which is something that could teams could benefit from. The only issue I have with this practice is if the teams are only getting one religious viewpoint from these chaplains.

Nneoma I. said...

I think the reason this is a big issue is because these secular schools are potentially using tax payer money to employ religious figures for their sports teams. It's understandable why this may bother some, but I done think it can be proven unconstitutional. Yes, a designated chaplain for a team is blatantly religious, but I don't even believe that a character coach is a threat to establishment. The organizations that any individual is involved in do not directly prove how they are conducting their job and what they are telling their players. Further more, I believe that even if the coaches had external influenced from their religion on how they are treating their players, as long as they are not explicitly telling people to believe their religion, I don't find this unconstitutional. The case had a weak argument.