Dabo Swinney, Clemson Football & Religious Freedom

A Happy Easter to everyone from TheSportsNotebook. On this day, when believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ celebrate His Resurrection, it seems like an appropriate day to take up a topic where sports and religious faith have intersected. And it’s the complaints being lodged by a radically secular group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, against Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.

Swinney, a Protestant believer, makes no bones about his faith and the type of environment his program is. There is no requirement to share that faith, but the head coach is up front with recruits about who he is and what he believes.

That belief extends to activities such as making a chaplain available to the team, organizing bus trips to prayer meetings and having scheduled chapel time. There is no requirement that any player participate, nor has any evidence been provided that suggest the faith-based activities are really compulsory under the disguise of being voluntary (i.e., hidden consequences that everyone knows will come and why).

Voluntary participation is still too much for The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose complaint wants Clemson to instruct Swinney and his staff in the First Amendment.

The very name of the Freedom From Religion Foundation underscores their constitutional confusion. There is no guarantee whatsoever of freedom from religion. There is a guarantee for freedom of religion, where no one is to be coerced into religious activities they don’t believe in. But that’s entirely different than freedom from religion, which essentially implies that secularists have a sacred right never to see or interact with anything they don’t agree with or find silly.

If evidence can be found that the religious activities at Clemson were really un-voluntary, that would be different. But if all that’s taking place is that Christianity is “woven into the culture” at Clemson, as a former player put it, then that’s just life and secular players who don’t like it can play football elsewhere, as sure as conservative Christians might avoid playing at Cal.

What we really need to get at here is acknowledgement of the reality that everyone is religious. I don’t mean everyone is Christian or Jewish or Muslim, or that everyone goes to church. But everyone has an intellectual framework that drives their life and their understanding of existence, and that’s what a religion boils down to. And by that realistic standard, secularism is absolutely a religion.

Do we really think the Freedom From Religion Foundation would be upset at Swinney if secularism was the religion “woven into the culture” at Clemson? If he were organizing bus rides to a gay rights parade, bringing in left-wing feminist speakers and setting aside time for proper study of global warming, would the Freedom From Religion Foundation be this focused at protecting dissenters from being exposed to such?

If you believe in a democracy and true freedom of religion, it’s not possible to create a society where you will never interact with anything you dislike. I hated my time in college because of the constant interaction with secularism (well, and for my all-too-frequent interaction with beer, but that’s another story entirely). But to this day, over twenty years later, I wouldn’t say my rights were violated. Because encountering the secular religion is not the same as being coerced to practice it.

The same goes for secularists and the Clemson football program. Either prove that Coach Swinney is coercing people or go find something else to do. Like learning what freedom of religion really means.

Happy Easter everyone. And a happy Passover, to our friends in the Jewish tradition.