Deion Sanders Can’t Pray with His Coaching Staff?

March 3, 2023
Deion Sanders | First Liberty Insititute

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

The radical Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF) is claiming that they’re “coaching” University of Colorado (CU) football coach Deion Sanders on the Constitution. FFRF recently sent a letter to the university saying there are “constitutional concerns” with Coach Sanders’ “promotion of religion and potential religious coercion through the football program.”

FFRF is wrong, and First Liberty has stepped in to make sure Coach Sanders’ rights aren’t trampled. We recently sent a letter to the university clarifying what the Constitution and legal precedent actually say about public employees and religious expression.

Infamous for attacking and complaining about virtually any public expression of faith, FFRF targeted Coach Sanders because he praised and glorified God for his new head coaching gig. They criticized him for inviting staff members and coaches to pray before several team meetings. This radical group even described the following staff members’ prayer as “egregious:”

“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 demanded Coach Sanders stop any kind of religious activity, arguing that it violates the separation of church and state. CU took note of this and directed its Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance to provide training to Coach Sanders and his coaching staff regarding “non-discrimination policies” and “guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression.”

Our attorneys point out that FFRF’s warnings rely on an outdated legal test the Supreme Court disavowed in our Coach Kennedy case (Kennedy v. Bremerton). The Court’s precedent in Kennedy made clear that public school employees may engage in religious expression and exercise.

In its letter, FFRF alleges Coach Sanders was “coercing” or “imposing religion” on students simply because he allowed staff-only meetings to begin with a short prayer. They even said it was necessary to censor these prayers because “students should not have to pray to play.” However, they couldn’t point to a single student or staff member who believed he or she was excluded by Coach Sanders’ religious exercise. FFRF even admits that it was Colorado residents, not CU students, who brought Coach Sanders’ religious exercise to its attention.

Just because a coach is engaging in prayer or other private religious expression does not mean it’s “coercion.” 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.

Like countless high school and college coaches across the country, Coach Sanders’ faith inspires him. He credits his successes to God and asks God for help in his daily life. After recovering from life-threatening health complications that arose in 2021, Coach Sander’s spoke openly about his gratitude to God for helping him through that ordeal.

At the press conference commemorating his new position, Coach Sanders opened his remarks by thanking God for calling him to CU and sharing his view that each day he should live to please God. “Hope is in the house. Hope is in the air. Hope is in the city. Hope is in the community,” Coach Sanders said.

Censoring a coach because of his religious beliefs betrays what religious liberty in America is all about. As the Supreme Court noted in Kennedy, “the Constitution and the best of our traditions” counsel against “censorship and suppression…for religious and nonreligious views alike.” The bottom line: Coach Sanders’ prayers with CU football staff are private speech entitled to constitutional protection. He’s fully within his rights to continue praying and living out his faith.

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