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Atheist group pushes Auburn to fire team chaplain

Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams
Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams

AUBURN, Ala. — The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist group that’s become known for bullying small towns and organizations into abandoning Christmas parades and prayers at meetings, is now pressuring Auburn University to “abolish the chaplaincy.”

The school’s football team chaplain is not an employee of the University, and is not not being paid by public funds, but the FFRF insists he is being given “special privileges and unrestricted access because he is a Christian clergyman.”

The Auburn University administration responded to the letter with a short statement Thursday.

“Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the US Congress. The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary.”

The FFRF reportedly sent similar letters to several other SEC schools, including Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and South Carolina, as well as ACC school Clemson. The group has requested documents from the University of Alabama to investigate its chaplain, as well.

“It makes no difference if the chaplain is unofficial, not school-sponsored, or a volunteer, because chaplains are given access to the team as a means for coaches to impose religion, usually Christianity, on their players,” the organization countered in its letter. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”

Auburn’s chaplain, Rev. Chette Williams, has held the position since 1999. A former Auburn football player himself, Williams the director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the school’s campus. His office is in the athletics department’s student athlete center.

“Brother Chette,” as he is known by the players, leads the pre-game prayer participated in by many—but not all—of the Tigers players.

Earlier this year the FFRF bullied Glencoe, Alabama, into removing a “Christian Flag” which had flown since 1992 from its premises.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent on the Establishment Clause issue has been mixed. School employee-directed prayer has been outlawed since the 1962 decision Engel v. Vitale and direct religious displays of solely Christian symbols on the entrances of state buildings were banned after Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU in 1989.

However, recent rulings have been more friendly towards the expression of Christianity in the public square. The 2014 ruling of Town of Greece v. Galloway allows for city councils and other public boards to open their meetings with an explicitly Christian prayer, holding that judges may not act as “censors of religious speech” simply because the prayers reflect the views of the dominant faith.


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