Although his debut as Colorado’s new head football coach is still months away, Deion Sanders has already found himself the target of an orchestrated left-wing attack on his faith.
In late January, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit advocacy group for atheists and agnostics, sent a letter to the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) complaining that Sanders reportedly prays with staff and players before team meetings. The organization claims this is “inappropriate and unconstitutional,” although, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently re-affirmed, the U.S. Constitution protects public expressions of faith, including at football games.
“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,” FFRF claimed. “It seems that in this case, Coach Sanders has not hired a Christian chaplain to impose religion on [his] players, but has done so himself, creating a Christian environment within his football programs that excludes non-Christian and non-religious players.”
The organization alleges several incidents of Sanders engaging in religious speech with staff and players. They include a Jan. 16 meeting in which a staff member, at the supposed behest of Sanders, led the team in the following prayer:
Lord, we thank You for this day, Father, for this opportunity as a group. Father, we thank You for the movement that God has put us in place to be in charge of. We thank You for each player here, each coach, each family. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
FFRF claims such voluntary practices amount to “religious coercion.”
An outspoken Christian, Sanders has often credited God for providing him with life-changing career opportunities. Upon landing his head coaching gig at CU, for example, the NFL Hall of Famer praised and glorified Jesus Christ for putting him in the position.
“Out of all the persons in the world, God chose me,” Sanders said. “For that, I thank Him; for that, I love Him; for that, I magnify Him; for that, I glorify Him; for that, I praise Him; for that, I owe Him. Each and every day, I’m trying to please Him.”
FFRF demanded the school “take action” against Sanders, including that he be coercively “educated as to his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause” and prohibited from engaging in such prayerful activities “in his capacity as head coach.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled just five months ago that the U.S. Constitution protects religious exercise and religious speech even of government employees, including many football coaches, CU caved to at least part of the organization’s demands. In a Jan. 31 letter, CU Executive Vice Chancellor Patrick T. O’Rourke notified FFRF that the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance met with Sanders “to provide guidance on the non-discrimination policies, including guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression.”
FFRF’s Arguments Fall Flat
FFRF’s arguments are extremely flawed, for two key reasons. First, as the group admits in its letter, the alleged concerns about Sanders’s prayers during team activities are from “Colorado residents,” not CU players or other members of the football program.
FFRF fails to name a single player or staff member who was coerced into praying. Nor does the group identify any individual who claimed he felt excluded by such practices. For all we know, these supposed complaints could have come from Colorado residents who don’t attend or have any connection to the university. It’s such a major flaw in FFRF’s justification for filing the complaint that even O’Rourke noted it in his response to the organization.
Second, the FFRF’s claim that Sanders’ use of prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which stipulates that government cannot establish an official religion, is meritless. As noted by the First Liberty Institute, a legal group that sent a letter to CU defending Sanders, FFRF’s arguments “rely on an outdated legal test the Supreme Court disavowed” in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District in October.
In that case, the Supreme Court affirmed high school assistant football coach Joe Kennedy’s constitutional right to pray on the football field after games. It also made clear that public school employees are permitted to engage in acts of religious expression.
“Just because a coach is engaging in prayer or other private religious expression does not mean it’s ‘coercion,'” First Liberty’s Jorge Gomez writes. “The FFRF’s argument fails to acknowledge the difference between public and private speech, which is a highly important distinction the Supreme Court considers regarding public employee religious speech.”
Be Bold in Prayer
While egregious, FFRF’s bid to prohibit Sanders from exercising his First Amendment freedoms isn’t the least bit shocking. As American culture has become increasingly immoral, activists have increasingly targeted the constitutionally protected rights of religious Americans to worship freely. The attack on Sanders serves as a prime example. In its obsessive secularism, FFRF attempts to compulsively stamp out any public displays of religious devotion.
While Sanders shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of sinless idol, we should all embrace his unapologetic devotion to God. The American founders firmly believed that without a religious and moral citizenry, the form of limited government they created couldn’t function.
We shouldn’t cower when under siege for our beliefs. In fact, it’s during such trying times when we should be embracing God the most and working to share His Word with others. So, take a page from Sanders’ book and be bold in faith and prayer. After all, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).