One of the greatest lies that atheists have sold to the general public in recent years is the idea that they are fighting for their right to not be forced into prayer.
That is, overtly and covertly, simply not true. Or, at the very least, it’s not true today.
Once upon a time, perhaps there was a sect of atheists who were noble (if not still horribly misguided) in their pursuit of religious exemption. But in 2023? Time and time again, people are reminded that atheists are not fighting for your religious freedom — they’re fighting for religious persecution.
This latest story emanating from the football locker rooms at the University of Colorado, Boulder is a stark reminder of that fact.
For the unfamiliar, there’s been a growing buzz surrounding the Colorado Buffaloes following the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders in December.
AD Rick George has named COACH PRIME @DeionSanders to be the 28th full-time head football coach at CU.
Welcome Coach Prime to Colorado!
— Colorado Buffaloes Football (@CUBuffsFootball) December 4, 2022
Sanders, during his short stint at Jackson State, proved himself to be both a talented coach (going 27-6 across two-and-a-half seasons at the historically black university in Mississippi) and recruiter (the Tigers were routinely bringing in talented prospects during Sanders’ tenure).
It’s worth noting that Jackson State was largely an afterthought in college football until Sanders arrived.
Hoping to bring some of that big energy with him to Colorado, Sanders joined the Buffaloes with a whirlwind of hype and expectations.
After all, the charismatic “Prime Time” (Sanders’s nickname from his playing days) is largely viewed as the ultimate modern college coach — old enough to still bring some of that smash-mouth, hard-nosed grit of yesteryear, but still young enough to relate to the best football players the high school systems have to offer.
Part of Sanders’ appeal is that he’s not shy about his Christian faith, an honest-to-goodness selling point for many families who are worried about their sons learning all the wrong lessons that come with fame and notoriety.
Given that modern Americans can’t have nice things, it should be of little surprise that even that little nugget of Sanders’ personality has come under absurd and ridiculous scrutiny, according to a fascinating report Tuesday from The Center Square.
A pair of advocacy groups, the First Liberty Institute and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent sparring letters to the university on the topic of Sanders’ professed faith.
This saga began in late January when the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a Karen-y letter to CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano complaining about the new football coach’s supposed “promotion of religion and potential religious coercion through the football program.”
“Multiple concerned Colorado residents have reached out to FFRF to report that CU’s new football coach Deion Sanders has been infusing his program with Christianity and engaging in religious exercises with players and staff members,” the letter said, as if “infusing his program” with lessons about hard work, accountability and the greater good would somehow make his team a lesser football program or harm the young men in his care.
The letter then cited two specific instances of Sanders beginning a team meeting with prayer — the audacity! — before rolling out a, frankly, offensive list of “demands” for CU and its new coach.
“The University of Colorado must take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Sanders understands that he has been hired as a football coach and not a pastor,” it said.
“We request that Sanders be educated as to his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause. He may not promote religion in his capacity as head coach.
“We further request notification in writing of the actions the University is taking to ensure that Sanders will not continue to proselytize to his players or subject them to coercive team prayers.”
It was signed by FFRF staff attorney Christopher Line.
According to The Center Square, CU’s executive vice chancellor, Patrick O’Rourke, responded to the letter by saying, among other things, that Sanders “was very receptive to this (non-discrimination policy) training” that the FFRF had requested.
This is where the First Liberty Institute had to interject, because how could any self-respecting person of faith take this idiotic slander laying down?
The FLI wrote to DiStefano on Tuesday to lambaste what it called the “unconstitutional censorship” of Sanders’ religious views by the university.
“We write to correct the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF’s) misstatements regarding the requirements imposed by the First Amendment on public school employees’ religious expression,” said the letter, signed by counsel Keisha Russell.
Indeed, the FLI previously worked on an astoundingly similar case involving a high school football coach who had the unmitigated gall to pray with his team after the game. In that case, the Supreme Court sided with the football coach, saying the school could not impugn his First Amendment rights in that manner.
“Coach Sanders does not lose his constitutional right to free exercise of religion simply because he is an employee at CU,” Russell wrote. “Yet, giving ‘guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression’ presents a risk of state-sponsored censorship of Coach Sanders’ private speech.”
As of Thursday afternoon, it did not appear that CU had responded to the First Liberty Institute’s letter.
Sanders and his Buffaloes will begin the 2023 season Sept. 2 with a doozy of a game, facing Texas Christian in the Horned Frogs’ first game since being historically embarrassed on a national stage. Given that Colorado finished last season 1-11 while TCU went 13-2 and played in the national championship game, many are expecting a bloodbath in TCU’s favor.
But if the Buffaloes hang tough or even pull off a major upset? You already know who their coach will thank first.
And the misnamed Freedom From Religion Foundation will have no choice but to kick and scream about it until the buffaloes come home.