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Ivey rallies for Auburn coaches after attack from atheist group – ‘We dare defend our rights’

A Wisconsin-based atheist group is attacking Auburn University for the role three of its coaches played in a worship event this week in which hundreds of students were baptized. 

The “Unite Auburn” event Sept. 12 was held in the school’s Neville Arena. About 200 students were baptized after the event in a small lake on campus.

Auburn football coach Hugh Freeze even baptized one of his players that night.

Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to university officials, opposing the event.

“Auburn University is a public university, not a religious one,” foudation attorney Chris Line said in the letter. “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for university employees to use their university position to organize, promote or participate in a religious worship event.

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“These ongoing and repeated constitutional violations at the university create a coercive environment that excludes those students who don’t subscribe to the Christian views being pushed onto players by their coaches.”

FFRF’s threats were dismissed Friday by Gov. Kay Ivey as “misguided” because they don’t know Alabama. 

“As Governor of Alabama, I take seriously my responsibility to faithfully execute the laws—and that includes safeguarding the religious freedom of all Alabamians, religious and nonreligious alike,” Ivey wrote in a letter back to the foundation.

“But the facts described in your recent letters do not violate anyone’s religious liberty. Even according to your own account. These events all involved adults interacting with other adults, and no one faced any threat of adverse consequences or declining to participate.

“What is more, requiring college officials to entirely remove faith from their lives could well violate those officials’ own religious freedom. After all, the First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion just as much as it prohibits government establishment of religion.”

Last August, Pearl took Auburn’s basketball team on an immersive trip to Israel. 

He said the journey was a sports trip as well as an educational experience. Players visited places of significant historical and religious importance, like the Western Wall and the Jordan River – where some were even baptized.

The group is calling on Auburn to make changes, such as firing coaches and the reeducation of staff on their “constitutional duties.”

While Auburn has yet to formally respond, if the response from Ivey, an Auburn alumna, is any indication of the state’s intentions, that won’t happen.

RELATED: Hundreds of students baptized at Auburn’s Red Barn

In January, Ivey issued an executive order that sets forth well-established legal protections for all people of faith (and no faith at all) when interacting with state government. One provision requires state agencies to allow their employees to express their faith to the same extent they allow employee expression that is not religious in nature.

“The last thing I want is for Alabama college and university officials to be taking legal advice from an organization that does not recognize these points and whose self-avowed purpose is to promote a strict view of so-called ‘separation of church and state,'” she said Friday. “I hope you will someday come to know what makes the State of Alabama such a special place for so many of us. In the meantime, please understand that our state motto is ‘We dare defend our rights.’ 

“As Governor, I can assure you that we will not be intimidated by out-of-state interest groups dedicated to destroying our nation’s religious heritage.”

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