March Madness: Atheist Group Freedom From Religion Foundation Targets NCAA for Use of Christian Chaplains

( [email protected] ) Mar 27, 2015 02:39 PM EDT
Steve Dickey
Wichita State's Steve Dickey is just one of the NCAA chaplains being targeted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Photo: Patheos

As the NCAA Basketball Championships continue through March Madness into the last of the regionals this weekend, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is targeting five college teams for their use of chaplains.

"One in three Americans under the age of 30 identifies as nonreligious, making it very likely these chaplains are imposing their religion on students who are not religious and just want to play basketball," the FFRF claims.

This is not the first time the FFRF has tried to stop a chaplain from being affiliated with a public college's sports team, but the problem is that these universities don't pay these chaplains. Professional sports teams are within their rights to employ religion-based chaplains for their teams, but college teams are a different story. Now it is the FFRF's mission to shut down these chaplains.

"Public school athletic teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain because public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said in a statement to the schools.

Louisville, Wichita State, Maryland, Oklahoma, Kansas and Virginia are on this year's target list for the FFRF, each with their own detailed "violations" as cited by the atheist organization.

  • Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has allegedly established his friend, Father Ed Bradley, as the basketball team's "unofficial chaplain."
  • WSU's Steve Dickie, are associated with Nations of Coaches, a religious organization that provides "character coaches" and chaplains to basketball programs. The group's logo is a whistle with a cross on it, and bible verses abound on its website.
  • University of Maryland employs pastor Donnell Jones as a team chaplain - associated with Nations of Coaches.
  • Oklahoma University lists Scott Thompson as its "Character Coach." - associated with Nations of Coaches.
  • University of Virginia employs Brad Soucie as Director of Player Development. Soucie spoke at Liberty University about the "significance of men finding their identity in Jesus instead of success, work, or any other source."
  • Kansas University also has a chaplain, Wayne Simien. Simien quit the NBA to pursue a "passion . . . for Christian ministry and youth athletics," and has said his goal is "to impact the lives through sports and with the message of Jesus Christ."

But 4 Winds Christian Athletics President Steve McConkey is fighting back. "Freedom From Religion claims they support freedom of speech, but they continue to attack Christians," he said. "They were founded in the 1970s because they did not like pro-life people and the founder was part of the Zero Population Control movement to control the population. Not your average citizens." 

The 4 Winds association says that the FFRF tried this last fall, but the charges were "found to be false."

"If enough Christians and institutions stand up, Freedom From Religion will not be able to bully people," McConkey continues. "When a society loses it Christian foundation, eventually no one benefits, even atheists. Christians need to pray and realize this is a spiritual problem as non-believers want to impose their made-up morality on others."