Colorado head coach Deion Sanders has yet to officially appear on the sidelines of the Buffaloes after taking over in December, but he is already at the center of controversy over his religion.
Sanders was known for expressing his strong belief in God when it came to his coaching style at Jackson State. When he left the Tigers for the Colorado concert, he was mocked for saying God sent him to become the coach of Jackson State, but he quit the job anyway.
With the start of the Buffaloes’ 2023 season just months away, Sanders now finds himself caught in the middle between two religious groups. One group wants Colorado to force him to stop preaching his religious beliefs to his players, while another has warned the university that telling him to do so could infringe on his rights.
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The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent to the University of Colorado a letter on January 24 about Sanders’ references to Christianity and claimed they were contacted by residents concerned that players might be pressured to pray during their team meetings.
The letter also pointed to a prayer in question, which read, «Lord, we thank you for this day, Father, for this opportunity as a group. Father, we thank you for the movement God has set in motion for us to be in charge.» of. We thank you for every player here, every coach, every family. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen».
The group called on the university to educate Sanders about «his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause» and to «ensure Sanders understands that he has been hired as a football coach and not a pastor.» The letter urged the school to provide the group that the coach «will not continue to proselytize his players or subject them to coercive team prayers,» according to The Christian Post.
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The school would respond to the letter next week, saying Sanders was «very receptive to this training and came away with a better understanding of University of Colorado policies and Establishment Clause requirements,» according to the Deseret News. The school said that if a player had a problem with sentences in the future, it would refer them to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance.
First Liberty Institute came to Sanders’ defense in February, making it clear that the school may be violating Sanders’ rights in connection with the 2022 Supreme Court case: Kennedy v. Bremerton.
“We are writing to correct the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) misstatements regarding First Amendment requirements on religious expression for public school employees,” the First Liberty Institute letter read. «The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public school employees can engage in religious expression and exercise; therefore, public universities like CU cannot target Coach Sanders (or other football staff) for exercising constitutional rights on campus.
The Supreme Court rules in favor of a Washington state high school football coach who prayed with his team after games. The court found that the school violated the coach’s First Amendment rights by trying to stop him from praying.
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«Supreme Court precedent is clear that public school employees may engage in religious expression and exercise,» the letter added.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation argued in its initial letter to Colorado that Kennedy v. Bremerton «did not alter the law regarding these kinds of coercive prayer practices, nor did it overturn these earlier decisions.»
Sanders has continually credited his faith with overcoming major obstacles in his life, including a serious health issue that led to the amputation of two toes.
«I can’t walk by myself and people have to help me get in and out of everything, and I say, ‘Lord, I thank you,'» he previously said. “You say, ‘Principal, how can you say Lord, I thank you and it’s hard for you to help yourself?’ Because I’m alive.»
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Sanders was a high-profile hire for Colorado. He also brought in some highly regarded recruits in the short time he was there.