Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney says he plans no changes in the Tiger football program in response to a recent complaint filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation raising issues related to possible violations of the separation of church and state at a public institution.
A Wisconsin-based advocacy group, the FFRF has presented Clemson with a list of concerns related to the Christian culture prevalent in the football program, including the availability of bible study and devotional groups, transportation to church services, and the employment of former Clemson football and track athlete James Trapp as team chaplain and the placement of his office inside the football complex.
Clemson University issued a preliminary response to the FFRF complaint on April 17, outlining its answer to the charges and expressing support for Swinney and the manner in which he conducts his program.
Swinney said on Wednesday that he has no plans to make changes in his program based on the FFRF complaint.
He said he was "a little caught off guard" by the charges, and pointed to a statement he released earlier on Wednesday, prior to the ACC's post-spring coaches' teleconference.
"I'm very proud of the way we run our program and the culture that we have here and the young men that we develop here," Swinney said. "To me, there's already been too much talk about all that stuff. My statement is what it is."
Asked specifically if he plans any changes, Swinney said "no."
"We do things the right way and always have, and we'll continue to run the program the way we always have," he said.
In the statement that Swinney released on Wednesday, he said the Clemson football program welcomes players of all faiths.
"Over the past week or two, there has been a lot of discussion of my faith," he wrote. "We have three rules in our program that everybody must follow: (1) players must go to class, (2) they must give a good effort and (3) they must be good citizens. It is as simple as that.
"I have recruited and coached players of many different faiths. Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character."
Swinney went on to say that his personal faith is an integral part of who he is, as a man and a coach.
"Recruiting is very personal," Swinney wrote. "Recruits and their families want – and deserve – to know who you are as a person, not just what kind of coach you are. I try to be a good example to others, and I work hard to live my life according to my faith."
During his teleconference, Swinney cited former wide receiver Aaron Kelly, a Jehovah's Witness, as an example of his program's policy in action.
"We couldn't have more opposite faiths," said Swinney of Kelly. "But yet I coached him for five years, and I love Aaron Kelly and Aaron Kelly loves me and his family loves me. I never had a problem, ever, in coaching him.
"He was never a guy that went to church with us. He didn't pray with the team if the team ever prayed together, and it was never a problem. He became the all-time leading receiver at Clemson and the ACC. It's not about who the best Christian is, it's about who the best player is. It always has been and it always will be."
In its complaint dated April 10, which focused heavily on Trapp's position as team chaplain and his office space in the WestZone, the FFRF complained that player participation in religious activities led or provided by coaches and administrators might be a violation of the separation of church and state provided by the United States Constitution. The group implied that Clemson's Christianity-related activities might be less than voluntary, and that players choosing not to participate might be subject to ostracism or stigma.
In its response, Clemson University refuted those suggestions.
“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views," said the 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.
“Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ¬ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.
“We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”
Follow Kerry Capps on Twitter @oandwkc