The Netflix series Last Chance U is all about the players on the East Mississippi Community College football team, some of whom were kicked out of their elite Division I programs or didn’t have the grades to compete at that level. The show has received really positive reviews since it became available a couple of weeks ago.
In addition to the uplifting stories, however, there’s another side of the story that got very little coverage: This is a football team where coaches pray with students and push the Bible, acts that might seem inspirational but still violate the law:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation explains:
Religious endorsement is endemic within the football program. Head Coach Buddy Stephens regularly leads his players in the Lord’s Prayer. He prefaces the prayer with “everybody touch somebody,” and then the whole team and coaching staff recites the prayer. This occurs in several episodes during the series. Stephens has said of faith: “It is the foundation of our program. We start our practices with prayer [and] end our practices with prayer.”
In one episode, Assistant Coach Marcus Wood leads a prayer before a game that says, “Dear God, Thank you for these guys, the way they’ve worked. Thank you for all of our blessings. Help us to play this game in a violent and vicious manner and play it the way it’s supposed to be played.” He also apparently leads a weekly bible study for the players. An episode of “Last Chance U” begins with him holding what seems to be a bible while discussing a verse from the Book of Job. In another episode, he says, “Maybe my job is to talk to you a little bit every week about the bible.”
FFRF sent a letter to the school’s President, Thomas Huebner, calling for an end to the religious proselytizing:
“As a state-run institution, East Mississippi Community College is bound by the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which ‘mandates neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’ to quote the U.S. Supreme Court,” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover [wrote]… “Incorporating religious practices into college football activities violates this basic constitutional principle.”
“The Supreme Court has explicitly held school-sponsored devotional bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s prayer unconstitutional,” Grover adds. “The constitutional prohibition on school-sponsored prayer and religious endorsement extends to colleges, especially when institutional circumstances create a coercive religious environment.”
“Any public institution in this day and age has to be mindful of the diversity of belief among its students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is unconscionable for East Mississippi Community College to act as if its entire football team is made up of devout Christians.”
For all the amazing things the coaching staff accomplishes to help these students, it’s unfortunate that Christianity is the glue they believe binds everyone together. They can continue their success without forcing Jesus on everyone.