Normally, when we hear about football coaches pushing religion on players, it’s in an informal, coercive way: they pray before/after games or mention God in pep talks.
At the University of Utah, their football coaches are literally teaching a class in Mormonism to the players.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to university Pres. David Pershing Monday requesting that graduate assistant and former NFL player Sione Pouha and Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley stop teaching an LDS Institute class meant for players on the football team.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars public-university employees from teaching religious classes to university students,” the letter states. “The Establishment Clause prohibits governmental bodies from taking any action that communicates ‘endorsement of religion.'”
Just to make clear, there are two problems here: You have university employees teaching what amounts to a Sunday School class (as opposed to, say, a secular class on the history of Mormonism)… and you have football coaches teaching a class that football players are expected to take (even if it’s “voluntary” in name).
The players are welcome to get a religious education on their own time — I’m sure someone in Utah can help them learn Mormon theology — but the locker room isn’t the place for it.
“Major college football is a highly coercive environment, so if religious courses are being taught and being injected into a major college football program, players are going to likely feel pressured to take part in these religious classes,” [Americans United for Separation of Church and State associate legal director Alex ] Luchenitser said. “It’s not an academic class at all. They’re teaching the gospel in this class. That’s clearly across the Constitutional line. All these players, if they want to go to church, they can go to church.”
Some players were quoted in the KSL.com article as really enjoying the religious classes, but that’s completely irrelevant. The students who feel pressured to take the class are the ones least likely to speak up. This isn’t a popularity contest. This is about following the law.
University officials say they will have their legal counsel review AU’s letter and respond soon.
(Screenshot via KSL.com — Thanks to Randy for the link)