An anti-religion group’s attempt to challenge an Alabama university following a video showing the school’s football coach assisting with a student’s baptism has been criticized by legal experts for their “twisted interpretation of the First Amendment.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Auburn University President Christopher Roberts, asserting that over 200 student baptisms, one of which involved Auburn Tigers head football coach Hugh Freeze, somehow violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. According to FFRF, these events created a coercive atmosphere that excluded students who didn’t share the Christian views promoted by their coaches.
Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom, deemed FFRF’s letter an erroneous interpretation of the First Amendment. The Alliance Defending Freedom is known for its successful Supreme Court litigation in cases related to First Amendment and religious freedoms.
Langhofer stated that public universities are meant to be platforms for free speech and the exercise of religion, emphasizing that Auburn University is a public institution. He argued that FFRF’s desire to silence religious students is unconstitutional, citing a recent Supreme Court case (the Coach Kennedy case) that upheld the right of religious coaches and students to engage in religious activities on campus in their private capacity.
The baptisms that sparked this controversy took place at a lake near Auburn University during a “Unite Auburn” worship event, featuring Christian worship band Passion and various speakers. The baptisms were not initially planned as a religious event but were spontaneous acts of faith by college students. Witnesses described the atmosphere as filled with genuine joy and peace, emphasizing that it was a student-driven initiative to follow their religious beliefs.
Auburn University confirmed receiving the letter from FFRF but did not provide further comment. Christian Huff, a podcaster married to Sadie Robertson of the Duck Dynasty family, criticized FFRF’s stance on social media, calling it an “absolute joke” to issue a warning to the university over a head football coach participating in a post-event baptism.