Two recent incidents at Snead State Community College and Auburn University have sparked debates over the separation of religion and public institutions. Due to these incidents, The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter about alleged religious influences on campus. Auburn University has not responded to the letter, but Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has sent given her own reply.
Snead State Community College
At Snead State Community College, a complaint was filed with the FFRF, alleging that President Joe Whitmore imposed his personal religious beliefs on college employees.
President Whitmore provided an annual “guiding Bible verse” for the staff, causing discomfort and offense to some individuals.
An End to Prayers
According to the complaint, employees were required to participate in Christian prayers before meals and staff events.
The FFRF called for an immediate end to prayers at staff events and the exclusion of religious messages from official communications.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor released a statement saying, “A clear abuse of authority seems to be happening here — and that, too, in such a sensitive, private sphere as religion. This has to end immediately.”
A separate incident occurred at Auburn University to which the FFRF expressed concerns regarding religious influences within this university as well.
The FFRF’s letter was in response to an event called “Unite Auburn,” where 200 students were baptized.
The FFRF’s letter also discussed how Auburn football coach, Hugh Freeze, baptized a student-athlete during the event.
The organization felt this might be an indication of an inappropriate environment for student-athletes
A Coercive Environment
The FFRF wrote in response, “These ongoing and repeated constitutional violations at the University create a coercive environment that excludes those students who don’t subscribe to the Christian views being pushed onto players by their coaches.”
Inappropriate and Unconstitutional
The FFRF’s letter also said, “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for university employees to use their university position to organize, promote or participate in a religious worship event.”
In response to these two allegations, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey defended the college officials’ right to express their faith in an open letter to the FFRF.
Adults With Other Adults
Ivey wrote, “These events all involved adults interacting with other adults, and no one faced any threat of adverse consequences for declining to participate.”
The First Amendment
Governor Ivey argued that removing faith entirely from individuals’ lives would actually go against our rights protected by the First Amendment. Ivey wrote, “The First Amendment protects the “free exercise” of religion just as much as it prohibits government establishment of religion.“
Then the Governor supported her argument by quoting the Alabama state motto to say, “We dare to defend our rights.”
A Direct Address
Governor Ivy then concluded her letter by addressing the co-presidents of the FFRF directly and said, “As Governor, I can assure you that we will not be intimidated by out-of-state interest groups dedicated to destroying our nation’s religious heritage.”
In response to this controversy, many people seem to feel that these people were exercising their religious freedoms and the letter from the FFRF was simply uncalled for.
One social media user commented, “They rage over Faith, Family, and Freedom values — But, they support students who pretend to be dogs howling at the moon.”
A second user agreed with Governor Ivey, and said, “Kids? College students are many things but, in general, “kids” aren’t one of them. By law, their adults.”
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