Clemson football program accused of pushing Christianity on players

Clemson University says it supports Dabo Swinney and his program and has found no improprieties

photos by Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail
James Trapp played wide receiver for the Tigers under Danny Ford, then several seasons in the National Football League.

Photo by Ken Ruinard, Anderson Independent Mail

photos by Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail James Trapp played wide receiver for the Tigers under Danny Ford, then several seasons in the National Football League.

The leader of an organization that monitors separation of church and state said Tuesday that Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have leavened their athletic program with so much Christian indoctrination that the administration needs to step in and say “hands off the consciences of these kids.”

But Clemson University said Tuesday it supports Swinney and his program and has found no improprieties.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter of complaint to Clemson University, urging the Upstate school to cease the athletics department’s emphasis on prayers, Bible studies and other religious activities, including busing players to local churches for Sunday services.

“Of course these students are going to feel that they have to go to every Fellowship of Christian Athletes prayer breakfast,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the education non-profit based in Madison, Wisc., that represents atheists and agnostics. But she said, “Football players should not be subjected to religious tests to play.”

The complaint filed April 10 could set up a clash of culture and Constitution in a deeply religious and politically conservative region of South Carolina. But at least one or more Clemson residents were apparently uncomfortable with the practices of the football program and brought the issue to the attention of the foundation, Gaylor said.

In the complaint, foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott said “Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program. We are concerned that this commingling of religion and athletics results, not from student initiative, but rather from the attitudes and unconstitutional behaviors of the coaching staff.”

A spokesman for the Clemson athletics department declined to comment on the letter of complaint. Tim Bourret, Clemson’s assistant athletics director for football communication, said officials had been advised by counsel not to have any comment.

But Cathy Sams, Clemson’s chief public affairs officer, defended the football program and said the university believes the foundation is mistaken in its assessment of the program’s religious bent.

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” the university said in a written statement. “Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.”

Swinney, who made $2.5 million for the 2013 season and has inked an eight-year deal worth more than $27 million, has made no secret of his Christian faith and his reliance on God in his daily life.

“To be here as the head coach at Clemson, that doesn’t just happen,” Swinney said when he was named head coach in 2008. “I hope people will really listen to me when I tell them what my secret to success is, and that is to put your eyes on the Lord in everything you do, and believe in yourself, and don’t quit.”

The foundation said it has no problem with Swinney exercising his personal religious freedom, but Gaylor said that stops at the feet of student athletes.

“The principle is that you cannot compel someone to go to church,” said Gaylor, who noted that another good southerner, Thomas Jefferson, authored the definitive doctrine on religion freedom. “These students can go to their own churches.”

The group in its complaint made several allegations against team chaplain and former Tiger player James Trapp, saying that “Mr. Trapp, as a paid employee of a state university, may not proselytize or promote religion.”

But a Clemson official said Trapp, who is listed as campus director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization, is not a university employee. Trapp is listed in the Clemson media guide as a "Volunteer Team Advisor."

Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-based state-church watchdog with about 20,000 members nationwide and 155 in South Carolina. Last year, Gaylor said the organization dealt with 2,500 complaints, many related to praying in public schools.

Last year, the foundation challenged invocation at graduations on behalf of two graduates of Lexington-Richland 5 schools and one current student.

Following is the full text of Freedom From Religion Foundation's press release detailing its complaint against Clemson:

In an April 10 letter of complaint to Clemson University, the Freedom From Religion Foundation details several serious constitutional concerns about how the public university's football program is entangled with religion. The school in Clemson, S.C., responded Feb. 25 to FFRF's open records request, on which the complaint to Erin Swan Lauderdale, senior associate general counsel, is based.

"Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "We are concerned that this commingling of religion and athletics results, not from student initiative, but rather from the attitudes and unconstitutional behaviors of the coaching staff."

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state-church watchdog, has about 20,000 members nationwide and 155 in South Carolina.

FFRF contends:

• In 2011, coach William "Dabo" Swinney personally invited James Trapp to become team chaplain for the Tigers.

That violates the Constitution and Clemson's own "misguided and legally dubious 'Guidelines For Athletic Team Chaplains,' ” Elliott noted. The guidelines say student groups select their choice for team chaplain and then request the coach's approval. No records were provided that show a student organization selected a chaplain.

• Trapp was regularly given access to the entire team in between drills for bible study.

FFRF says that by granting Trapp such access, Swinney shows "preference for religion over nonreligion, alienates those players who don’t believe as he does, and creates a culture of religious coercion within the university's football program.

• The chaplain has an office at the Jervey Athletic Center, displays bible quotes on a whiteboard and organized and led sessions on “being baptized” in the athletic building.

"Mr. Trapp, as a paid employee of a state university, may not proselytize or promote religion and may not use his university office to do so," Elliott wrote. He also serves as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative and as a football recruiting assistant. A website lists him as campus director of ministry/life coach, and he refers to himself as a minister.

"Mr. Trapp’s legal duties and obligations as a state employee prohibit him from using state resources (i.e., his office in the Jervey Athletic Center) and his official position as a recruiting assistant to proselytize. If Mr. Trapp is to evangelize the team, he must not do so as the recruiting assistant, nor can it be at coach Swinney’s insistence."

FFRF also contends, due to information it's received, that:

• Swinney confirmed that the entire team would attend an FCA breakfast Dec. 31, 2011, wherein three players would “testify.”

• Three privately funded buses (116-seat total capacity) were used to take the team and coaches to Valley Brook Baptist Church on Aug. 7, 2011, and on other occasions for worship on “Church Day.”

• Swinney schedules team devotionals. Records indicate that between March 2012 and April 2013, approximately 87 devotionals were organized by Trapp, approved by Swinney and led by coaching staff.

"[P]layers wishing to abstain should not be forced to subject themselves to the resentment, embarrassment or scrutiny that could result from taking such a stand," Elliott said, citing the 1992 Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman.

FFRF wants the school to direct Swinney and Trapp to immediately stop team prayers, sermons, bible studies and “church days” for players and train staff about their First Amendment obligations and monitor compliance.

In 2012, FFRF sent a letter to Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C., alerting officials to similar violations in its football program. The university agreed that the program’s religious entanglement was coercive and had no legitimate place in the athletic program.

A January 2014 Sports Illustrated story said Swinney had recently signed an eight-year contract for $27.15 million.

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Comments » 27

KIMOSAMI writes:

155 contrarians out of what, 3 or 4 million people in S.C. have a problem with grown men doing something voluntary. Voluntary.

Christians don't coerce. That's the muslim types, contrarians. But your type are scared shi##less to say anything to them.

clmtgr92 writes:

The Constitution states "Freedom of Religion" not "Freedom from Religion". This sham of an organization is going after every major college football program in the South. I hope Clemson and the State of South Carolina tell them to take a hike and don't come back.

lhaselden writes:

The atheists consider proselytizing to be coercion when done from a position of authority such as a coach. I do think a coach or any government employee has the right to live their faith including sharing their faith with those they come in contact with. The Supreme Court has never ruled that sharing your faith was unconstitutional in any setting. The Supreme Court rulings involve institutionalizing the proselytizing or regulating them.

Xander5000 writes:

We are blessed people and some of these people think things are done or things have happend because they made it that way. This subject could go so deep it will overload my computer.
BYU, Notre Dame, SMU, and plenty others..all day long its religion..religion..religion and nobody makes a huge fuss about it. Dabo will go a long way to keep our student athletes on the right path. Any caring person would. Sure they don't have to participate and its their choice if they want to. Its always been their choice to worship whatever. I'm pretty sure there are players that are into other religions.
I really don't know what is the big fuss. What do you want?....A group of young men and women that are well grounded with stability and some order in their life?
...Or do you want a group of young men and women that don't give a crap about anything and it has to be thugnation all day..everyday.

I was once told that when you are doing something good and it shows...you will get attacked.

kellytown writes:

This is the SOUTH and thats who we are God fearing people, We don't hide it!!! We thank God for all things good and bad it's who we are and I think God for that and the blessing that he has given me and my family. All I have to say is God bless you all, I don;t wish you no harm. I will just pray for you and hope you find a better path to follow and turn your hate into something good that benefits you all.

CUHyperDuc writes:

in response to Xander5000:

We are blessed people and some of these people think things are done or things have happend because they made it that way. This subject could go so deep it will overload my computer.
BYU, Notre Dame, SMU, and plenty others..all day long its religion..religion..religion and nobody makes a huge fuss about it. Dabo will go a long way to keep our student athletes on the right path. Any caring person would. Sure they don't have to participate and its their choice if they want to. Its always been their choice to worship whatever. I'm pretty sure there are players that are into other religions.
I really don't know what is the big fuss. What do you want?....A group of young men and women that are well grounded with stability and some order in their life?
...Or do you want a group of young men and women that don't give a crap about anything and it has to be thugnation all day..everyday.

I was once told that when you are doing something good and it shows...you will get attacked.

"On the right path" of having morals and a sense of purpose in life does not need to have anything to do with religion. Just because one does not practice your religion, you cannot assume they are devoid of any sense of values, and are just thugs who don't give a crap about anything.

The FFRF's arguments have merit. The universities you mention are private Chrisitian universities, not public state funded institutions. As a public university, Clemson should not give an appearance of preference towards Christianity or any other religion (or non-religion for that matter). Having the team participate in things such as bible study in between team drills (more information on these occurrences needed here) would be an indication of preference.
I'm not saying that I don't respect Dabo for his religious commitment, ethics and trying to use such as a medium for improving the lives of others. However, he holds a position of influence and has to be careful how he manages such.

And KIMOSAMI, like it or not, minorities are still entitled to voice their concerns. Your statement that "Muslim types" coerce and Christians do not, is asinine.

Xander5000 writes:

in response to CUHyperDuc:

"On the right path" of having morals and a sense of purpose in life does not need to have anything to do with religion. Just because one does not practice your religion, you cannot assume they are devoid of any sense of values, and are just thugs who don't give a crap about anything.

The FFRF's arguments have merit. The universities you mention are private Chrisitian universities, not public state funded institutions. As a public university, Clemson should not give an appearance of preference towards Christianity or any other religion (or non-religion for that matter). Having the team participate in things such as bible study in between team drills (more information on these occurrences needed here) would be an indication of preference.
I'm not saying that I don't respect Dabo for his religious commitment, ethics and trying to use such as a medium for improving the lives of others. However, he holds a position of influence and has to be careful how he manages such.

And KIMOSAMI, like it or not, minorities are still entitled to voice their concerns. Your statement that "Muslim types" coerce and Christians do not, is asinine.

Its like I said it is their choice to participate if they want. As for the right path part....what would be right for a kid to do....help an elderly lady with her groceries and carry it down the street to her home for her?...or...go rob someone for the heck of it. It may not be for religious reasons but for some that may be the electricity to make their light go off and do the right things in life. You would be suprised what it takes sometimes.

michtiger writes:

in response to CUHyperDuc:

"On the right path" of having morals and a sense of purpose in life does not need to have anything to do with religion. Just because one does not practice your religion, you cannot assume they are devoid of any sense of values, and are just thugs who don't give a crap about anything.

The FFRF's arguments have merit. The universities you mention are private Chrisitian universities, not public state funded institutions. As a public university, Clemson should not give an appearance of preference towards Christianity or any other religion (or non-religion for that matter). Having the team participate in things such as bible study in between team drills (more information on these occurrences needed here) would be an indication of preference.
I'm not saying that I don't respect Dabo for his religious commitment, ethics and trying to use such as a medium for improving the lives of others. However, he holds a position of influence and has to be careful how he manages such.

And KIMOSAMI, like it or not, minorities are still entitled to voice their concerns. Your statement that "Muslim types" coerce and Christians do not, is asinine.

Finally someone who understands the question. Not about religion or the people writing the letter but about the appearance of the use of position, whether real or perceived to promote a belief system in a public institution. Love Dabo and university and I hope they review procedures to be sure. I bet they agree it deserves study because they are very good caring leaders who care for our student/athletes.

CUHyperDuc writes:

Fair enough, and I agree that perhaps it can me the spark that's needed (granted a whole other argument if that's the motivation they need). I'm just making the point that you can't assume someone would do the wrong thing if they don't have religious reasons to support the right choice.

SoCalTiger writes:

The founding fathers guaranteed a separation of church and state, and that should include state tax funded schools. I believe you should come to Jesus on their own, not because you feel forced or because you feel you have to believe in order to fit in. How can a non-believer feel like he is a part of team that is so heavily influenced by Christian faith? It's a question of priorities. I would think the staff would be acting in a way that brings a team together, not constantly suggesting that you must be Christian to be on the team. It's divisive. It's unfair because they have a captive audience - a group of student/athletes who want to play well, win and get an education. Why can't that be enough? It's just football, for goodness sakes. Christians feel an obligation to witness in every situation, but that enthusiasm to share the good news has no place in a state institution. Besides, if your Christian faith is stronger than a desire to unite a team, then go to a private Christian school. Separation of church and state is essential. Brought to you by the founding fathers.

clemvol writes:

Lets see.... everything that is being pushed and pushed hard at young people today is o.k.? Garbage in text books, garbage in lectures, garbage in movies, garbage in television,garbage in music, garbage in examples being set, garbage on the internet, garbage in pushing lifestyles on everyone and all this pushing is o.k. and no one objects?

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to clemvol:

Lets see.... everything that is being pushed and pushed hard at young people today is o.k.? Garbage in text books, garbage in lectures, garbage in movies, garbage in television,garbage in music, garbage in examples being set, garbage on the internet, garbage in pushing lifestyles on everyone and all this pushing is o.k. and no one objects?

What you see as garbage may not be viewed as garbage to others. What is the problem with letting people decide for themselves? You are free to only watch Christian TV or movies, free to only listen to Christian music, or free only study at a Christian school. You are free to decide. You can choose to be free from "garbage" just like some folks might want freedom from religion. The key is that the decision is your's, not someone else's.

wselgin writes:

Nothing to see here folks. This group is just upset that there are people in this world that actually enjoy their lives and have nothing better to do than try to mess things up for us all. Which group is pushing their beliefs on whom? You don't see us trying to follow them around and tell them how to live their lives. Just ignore them and they will go away!!

daddyo2373 writes:

Where in the Constitution is "separation of church and state"?

clemvol writes:

in response to SoCalTiger:

What you see as garbage may not be viewed as garbage to others. What is the problem with letting people decide for themselves? You are free to only watch Christian TV or movies, free to only listen to Christian music, or free only study at a Christian school. You are free to decide. You can choose to be free from "garbage" just like some folks might want freedom from religion. The key is that the decision is your's, not someone else's.

Choice. You have hit the nail on the head. I choose to believe in God, Faith, witnessing, and heaven. I also choose not to bend life to make fit for this world. I choose to stand up and not stand down. I choose not to give in just to be socially correct. I choose not only to help save someone's life but more importantly to save someone's soul. I choose to ask for forgiveness because I am not perfect, just forgiven. So yes, everyday is about choices. What do you choose?

srrosebrock#293086 writes:

in response to clemvol:

Choice. You have hit the nail on the head. I choose to believe in God, Faith, witnessing, and heaven. I also choose not to bend life to make fit for this world. I choose to stand up and not stand down. I choose not to give in just to be socially correct. I choose not only to help save someone's life but more importantly to save someone's soul. I choose to ask for forgiveness because I am not perfect, just forgiven. So yes, everyday is about choices. What do you choose?

Well said, clemvol. I appreciate your comments. Why should Christians be required to be silent?
Who voiced the complaints? Citizens or student athletes? My understanding is that several key football players chose Clemson because of the environment there, the Christian influence. Are they not allowed to chose either because of their Christian beliefs?

KIMOSAMI writes:

in response to CUHyperDuc:

"On the right path" of having morals and a sense of purpose in life does not need to have anything to do with religion. Just because one does not practice your religion, you cannot assume they are devoid of any sense of values, and are just thugs who don't give a crap about anything.

The FFRF's arguments have merit. The universities you mention are private Chrisitian universities, not public state funded institutions. As a public university, Clemson should not give an appearance of preference towards Christianity or any other religion (or non-religion for that matter). Having the team participate in things such as bible study in between team drills (more information on these occurrences needed here) would be an indication of preference.
I'm not saying that I don't respect Dabo for his religious commitment, ethics and trying to use such as a medium for improving the lives of others. However, he holds a position of influence and has to be careful how he manages such.

And KIMOSAMI, like it or not, minorities are still entitled to voice their concerns. Your statement that "Muslim types" coerce and Christians do not, is asinine.

You can't give me one example of anyone being forced to accept Christ as the prototype. Not even God Himself. He gives us free will.
There are consequences, yes, just as in everything we do or don't do. But we have free will.

Muslim doctrine is to kill infidels. That's coersion. You have no free will.

If your daughter has an affair(or is raped).....get the cousins together and rape her....then stone her to death.

Ever heard of a Christian doing that?

Finally, minorities can and do voice their concerns here in America and the West. Try doing that in Iran or any Muslim country.

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to clemvol:

Choice. You have hit the nail on the head. I choose to believe in God, Faith, witnessing, and heaven. I also choose not to bend life to make fit for this world. I choose to stand up and not stand down. I choose not to give in just to be socially correct. I choose not only to help save someone's life but more importantly to save someone's soul. I choose to ask for forgiveness because I am not perfect, just forgiven. So yes, everyday is about choices. What do you choose?

It's none of your business what I choose. Just like my personal faith is none of your business.

CUHyperDuc writes:

in response to KIMOSAMI:

You can't give me one example of anyone being forced to accept Christ as the prototype. Not even God Himself. He gives us free will.
There are consequences, yes, just as in everything we do or don't do. But we have free will.

Muslim doctrine is to kill infidels. That's coersion. You have no free will.

If your daughter has an affair(or is raped).....get the cousins together and rape her....then stone her to death.

Ever heard of a Christian doing that?

Finally, minorities can and do voice their concerns here in America and the West. Try doing that in Iran or any Muslim country.

Perhaps you have a different perception than I of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

It seems you're categorizing all Muslims as extremists, who support a strict interpretation Sharia Law. Do all Christians follow the word of Deuteronomy 17:2-5?

CUHyperDuc writes:

But I digress, there was no need to present an argument of Christianity vs. Muslim in response to this article.
It's apparent that religion invokes strong emotions (especially in the south), and its reasonable to believe that having a religion deeply intertwined within an athletic program is against a public institution's responsibility to remain neutral. I'll sit the next couple plays out...

KIMOSAMI writes:

in response to CUHyperDuc:

Perhaps you have a different perception than I of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

It seems you're categorizing all Muslims as extremists, who support a strict interpretation Sharia Law. Do all Christians follow the word of Deuteronomy 17:2-5?

I wasn't around 700-800 years ago. I haven't any idea what went on when the Christians(my guys) were trying to RETAKE the holy places from the Muslims(your guys).

Ask someone other than that left-wing pseudointellectual phony that's apparently filled your head with anti-Christian thought....for a more truthful analysis.

For examples of the stuff I pointed out.....just watch any daily newscast and see heartbreaking examples of Sharia enforcement nightly: Female genital mutilation, "honor killings" of girls by the big brave Muslim/Moron fathers, stonings, bombings, ETC., ETC., ETC.

As for Deuteronomy......tell that pseudointellectual phony leftist prof that's jamming your cranium that Deuteronomy is an Old Testament Book. Jesus was sent by God much later. Then is when the doctrine of 'love others as you would have them love you' was born.

clemvol writes:

in response to SoCalTiger:

It's none of your business what I choose. Just like my personal faith is none of your business.

Just the response i expected. I hear it quite often in todays environment but i choose to keep EVERYONE in my prayers and to wear my faith to be visible in all venues. God Bless You.

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to clemvol:

Just the response i expected. I hear it quite often in todays environment but i choose to keep EVERYONE in my prayers and to wear my faith to be visible in all venues. God Bless You.

Good for you.

smitty4523 writes:

Let's play devil's advocate for a minute. What if Dabo Swinney's name was Abdul Mohammad and he was taking players to a mosque instead of a church, having them pray 5 times a day, etc. But we were still winning football games, the players were still positive influences in the community, working with charitable organizations, graduating from school, minimal run-ins with the law, how many of you would be ok with that? Or would you complain that he was pushing his religion on the players and it would need to stop?

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to smitty4523:

Let's play devil's advocate for a minute. What if Dabo Swinney's name was Abdul Mohammad and he was taking players to a mosque instead of a church, having them pray 5 times a day, etc. But we were still winning football games, the players were still positive influences in the community, working with charitable organizations, graduating from school, minimal run-ins with the law, how many of you would be ok with that? Or would you complain that he was pushing his religion on the players and it would need to stop?

If Dabo Swinney was Muslim, he wouldn't the head coach at Clemson.

Xander5000 writes:

in response to smitty4523:

Let's play devil's advocate for a minute. What if Dabo Swinney's name was Abdul Mohammad and he was taking players to a mosque instead of a church, having them pray 5 times a day, etc. But we were still winning football games, the players were still positive influences in the community, working with charitable organizations, graduating from school, minimal run-ins with the law, how many of you would be ok with that? Or would you complain that he was pushing his religion on the players and it would need to stop?

Same rule applies...its whoever chooses to participate's choice. Its like if someone from the Mosque wanted me to paint a wall of theirs
a type of Kentucky blue or something...and while I'm painting they are telling about their religion. Now I might listen while I'm painting or I might not even take the job....but you see what I did there....I gave myself a choice. Even if I listen it would not sway me to switch. But I took ownership in helping to beautify your Mosque. Just being nice I guess.

artiste452001 writes:

in response to KIMOSAMI:

155 contrarians out of what, 3 or 4 million people in S.C. have a problem with grown men doing something voluntary. Voluntary.

Christians don't coerce. That's the muslim types, contrarians. But your type are scared shi##less to say anything to them.

You can bet that if Dabo appointed a Muslim cleric as team chaplain, he'd be strung up, and the pro-religious types in South Carolina would be outraged.

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