Ford introduces chaplaincy bill


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An Alabama lawmaker is introducing a bill to ensure that chaplaincy programs remain a part of state universities.

Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, introduced the Rev. Chette Williams bill on Sept. 10.

Named for Auburn University’s football chaplain, the bill would ensure that chaplaincy programs remain a part of state universities and comes just weeks after the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Auburn, the University of Alabama and other schools protesting the presence of chaplains within football programs, saying religious leaders – even if they are not paid employees – could result in a “high degree risk of discrimination.”

“It makes no difference if the chaplain is unofficial, not school-sponsored, or a volunteer, because chaplains are given access to the team as a means for coaches to impose religion, usually Christianity, on their players,” the organization said in its letter to Auburn President Jay Gogue. “Under the circumstances, the chaplain’s actions are attributable to the university and those actions are unconstitutional.”

Ford, an Auburn graduate and the nephew of former University of Alabama football player and college football coach Danny Ford, said while he respects the right for people to practice their individual faiths, “there’s a difference between respecting the freedom of religion and excluding religion.

“Chaplains have been around since before our constitution was written, and they serve a vital role-especially for young men and women who are leaving home for the first time to go to college,” Ford said. “Yes, chaplains can provide religious-based advice to these kids. But chaplains don’t force kids to participate in religious activities against their will. When chaplains do offer spiritual advice, it’s because the student asked specifically for religious advice.”

The bill would authorize the governing bodies of all public two-year and four-year colleges in the state to employ a chaplain.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit group, is also coming to defense of the universities. ADF sent letters to Auburn, Alabama and 13 other universities in support of the chaplaincy program.

“Simply making these chaplains available does not somehow mean the schools are unconstitutionally endorsing any particular religion or even religion in general,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “The universities should simply ignore these unfounded demands from anti-religious groups, especially since the courts have upheld similar chaplain programs in a wide variety of other contexts for decades.”

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