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NFL Players Talk About Their Faith, as They Prepare for Championship Games on Sunday

(KANSAS CITY, Mo.)—And then there were four.

Just a quartet of teams remain for two exciting matchups this weekend that will dictate who goes to Super Bowl LI in Houston on Feb. 5. This Sunday, the Green Bay Packers take on the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots in the Conference Championships.

Players from each of these teams have talked to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) about their faith and how God guides them both on and off the field.

L.J. Fort | Pittsburgh

Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort grew in his faith—and found love—in the FCA Huddle at the University of Northern Iowa. Today, Fort is a part of the rich history of football in the Steel City, and his wife, Stephanie, is set to begin as an FCA staff member for college women’s ministry in Pittsburgh.

In a story published just this month on FCA.org, the Forts share about their walk with Christ and their journey together.

L.J. accepted Christ during his sophomore year in college and fueled his faith by attending ministry events several evenings a week. He helped Stephanie’s faith take off while they were still friends after meeting through FCA; the two married this past summer and are settling into Pittsburgh. There, L.J. is part of a team Bible study, while Stephanie is steeped in a women’s study with players’ wives, and both attend a couples’ study.

As the Forts continue to feed themselves with scripture and fellowship, they work to extend the same care and cultivation they have received to others. The influence FCA has had on their lives deeply reverberates within them, and their identity in Christ is the glue that holds them together.

“Relationship with Christ is my key,” L.J. said. “It’s about perspective, to bring Him in at the center of everything for His glory. God’s still allowing me my dream, but it’s His [dream] too.”

In a feature story for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fort also said that God, first and foremost, is his motivation.

“He’s my total inspiration,” Fort said. “The only reason I’m out here is to glorify him. I look at this game of football and he blessed me with these abilities to be above-average in football so I want to use them to worship him.”

Jordy Nelson | Green Bay

Although questionable to play on Sunday after breaking ribs against the New York Giants, Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been a presence in Green Bay since he was drafted in 2008, with nearly a hundred receptions for more than 1,200 yards this season alone.

Nelson told his story to FCA Magazine in 2011 and recounted growing up in small-town family that was heavily involved in sports.

“When it came to matters of faith, I grew up going to church with my family on Sundays, but that’s about as deep as my faith went,” Nelson said. “I was a member of our high school’s FCA Huddle, and, while I may not have embraced it at the time, FCA did help me begin to see how faith and sports could be intermixed.”

Nelson added that he turned to God when an injury at Kansas State sidelined him, and that his faith grew through his relationship with his girlfriend, Emily, who is now his wife.

“With her support,” he said, “I began to go deeper in my faith and eventually recommitted my life to Christ. I realized that I was called to be the spiritual leader in our relationship, which would require more of me than just talking the talk.”

Once Jordy and Emily moved to Wisconsin after he was drafted, they found many opportunities to help people in the community and still try to do as much as they can to spread God’s truth through their words and actions.

“On the team, I’m blessed to have a great support system of Christian men who are open about their faith,” Nelson said. “There are all kinds of stumbling blocks at this level, but I’ve surrounded myself with guys who are grounded in Christ. Being able to lean on them and talk openly about our faith has helped strengthen us as individuals and as teammates.”

FCA also asked Nelson why the ministry is important to athletes, especially in high school.

“In high school, it’s tough because there’s so many cliques,” he said, “but I think with FCA, it’s just a way for everyone to get together and do a Bible study—a way to get outside of school and see different sides of different people. (FCA is) a way to expand it and involve other people, and it was just great because friends would invite friends who would invite friends and it just kept growing and maybe opened the door for other people.”

Matthew Slater | New England

Special teams star Matthew Slater is an integral part of the Patriots’ success, and has been a significant part of New England’s dominance in the NFL over the past nine seasons.

Earlier this month, the six-time Pro Bowler thought he was headed to a Monday night Bible study, but found out in front of teammates and coaches that he was voted by his NFL peers to receive the prestigious Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award, according to ESPN. The award honors the NFL player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.” Slater’s father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater who spent two decades with the Rams, received the same honor in 1996. They are the first father-son team to be recognized with the award.

In last winter’s FCA Magazine, Slater talked about growing up in a family of believers in Orange, Calif., with parents who supported him and his brother in all things daily.

“My love and passion for Christ and the game of football came from my dad, so for me to be able to follow in his footsteps in both of those areas has been the biggest thrill of my personal journey,” Slater told FCA. “My dad first shared Christ with me when I was 7. It was with him that I prayed to accept Jesus into my life. My parents poured the Word of God into my life daily, and that was reinforced through Calvary Church of Santa Ana, where my family has attended for more than 30 years. I’m so thankful for the children’s ministry there, because they had—and continue to have—great youth pastors and Sunday School teachers who display the love of Christ.”

Slater attended Christian school and was active in church, but wasn’t forced to make tough decisions about his faith until he enrolled at UCLA.

“At a big school with a lot of kids from different walks of life,” he said, “I was inspired to personalize my faith and dig deeper in the Word, seeking truth so I could stand for what I believed. It wasn’t an easy time, but looking back I thank God for His grace and for providing friends who continued to pour into my life. I was able to grow as a man, learn more about myself and the Lord, and really make my faith my own.”

Even though he never started a game at UCLA and dealt with many injuries as a Bruin, New England saw his potential and drafted him in 2008.

“For my family and me, being drafted was much like the miracle of Lazarus coming out of the tomb,” he said. “You just don’t see kids who never started a game in college get drafted. Getting the call from the Patriots was a very emotional moment. It was hard evidence for us that God is real. He is alive and active and working. The eight years since then have been an unbelievable journey, no question.

“My faith has been very, very vital in me sticking around the NFL for this long,” Slater continued. “In this sport, there’s so much uncertainty, so many unknowns. Through it all, I’ve had to put my whole trust in the Lord and know that He is in control. My purpose in the NFL is to bring Him glory and make His name more famous. It’s really been fun to see how He’s opened doors and allowed certain conversations of faith to come up over the years—in ways I never could have imagined.”

FCA also asked Slater why sports ministries like FCA are important for athletes today.

“In this sports world, athletes and student-athletes are faced with a lot of different challenges,” Slater said. “There’s a lot of demands that are placed on us as athletes. I think that when you’re able to come together with other people that are experiencing and going through the same things you’re experiencing, put that in perspective as a relation to the Gospel and as it relates to what Christ is doing in our lives, it really helps you navigate through some of those stressful times and being an athlete.”

Watch Matthew Slater in an FCA video from the Super Bowl XLIX Media Day in 2015.

Jacob Tamme | Atlanta

Tight end Jacob Tamme is on the injured/reserve list for the Falcons after being hurt in November, but has been a staunch supporter of his teammates and football brothers during Atlanta’s playoff run.

In nine years in the NFL, Tamme has also played with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, and was a standout with the University of Kentucky, when he was honored by FCA with the 2007 Bobby Bowden Student Athlete of the Year Award.

In 2013, while playing with the Broncos, Tamme shared more about faith and football in FCA Magazine’s “6 Questions” feature:

One of my favorite Bible verses is: “Romans 8:28. It is an incredible promise and healthy to refer to and meditate on during times when we don’t feel like things are going our way.”

The people who have had the greatest impact on me spiritually are: “My parents, my wife and Indianapolis Colts’ chaplain Eric Simpson. God has put them and many other folks in my life who have been great influences on me and my walk.”

I intentionally bring Jesus into my game by: “Praying that I would play in the fullness of His Spirit and with the goal of bringing Him glory.”

Something most people do not know about playing in the NFL is: “It’s very hard to get involved with a local church because we work every Sunday. Teams I’ve played for have been great about finding ways for guys to worship.”

One piece of athletic advice I’d share with kids is: “Perseverance and hard work are musts. You won’t make it without both. If you do everything in your power to be the best player you can be and to help your team win, that is all that matters.”

One piece of spiritual advice I’d share with kids is: “Get to know Jesus, our Savior. He loves us so much He died for us and now desires to have a relationship with us.”

For more information about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, visit FCA’s web site at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.

 

Allyson Felix Goes for Gold Tonight!

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—After running strong races in the 400-meter heats and semifinals this weekend, world class sprinter Allyson Felix will go for gold once more tonight at 9:45 p.m. ET. If victorious, she will add to her impressive total of six Olympic medals—three golds from the 2012 London Olympics alone.

But she knows that none of these medals—nor any of her accomplishments on the international sports stage—are for her glory. The glory goes to the One who created her to do amazing things in front of millions of people.

Felix is featured on the cover of the July/August issue of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) Magazine, and also in a new, exclusive FCA video, where she says that her work with FCA allows her to leave her mark beyond track and field.

“It’s always been really great to be able to have an impact on young people’s lives, and sport has done so much for my life, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with your faith,” she says in the video. “I would love to leave a legacy—a feeling like I accomplished a lot on the track, but that I was someone who you could look at and say that they do have faith and that I tried to live my life for Christ. To me that’s important—that effort to try to follow His will.”

In the video, Felix also talks about growing up in a Christian home; her father is a pastor and her mom, a third-grade teacher. The close-knit family also includes her brother, Wes, who serves as her agent. Felix says her faith became her own while in college, when she had to decide whether she would live it out or not.

“My faith definitely helps me to stop being so results-driven,” she says. “You always want to look at a race and say, if I didn’t win, it wasn’t a success. But I think there’s so much more to it than that. The Lord has constantly revealed Himself to me throughout my career, ever since the beginning, ever since even coming into track.”

Last night, Felix was featured on NBC “Nightly News,” where she talked with Lester Holt about her road to the Olympics and her faith—and the segment was repeated on this morning’s NBC “Today Show” coverage in Rio. Holt reported that Felix’s “close and deeply spiritual family keeps her grounded.” Mother Marlean also recounted how she and her daughter have a tradition of praying together over the phone before races, if Mom can’t be there. That prayer, Felix told Holt, reminds her: “It’s bigger than track.”

Felix also told FCA that the road to the Olympics is always the most difficult part of the journey.

“The competing is the easy part,” says Felix. “Putting in the work—those hours on the track all year long—that’s where those medals are won. I’ve always enjoyed winning, and track and field is always something where, right away, you could tell who’s the best.”

After several months of adversity, including an ankle injury and the death of her grandfather, Felix keeps returning to the track with passion, saying that she’s always been “super competitive, no matter what it was.”

“Track is her life, but it’s not boring to hear her talk about it,” Wes told FCA for the magazine feature on his sister. “She’s got her priorities together. She has accomplished great things, but she doesn’t feel like she has to announce it or promote it, and that comes back to Christ being the center of her life.”

FCA has partnered with the YouVersion Bible reading app for the five-day “Road to Gold” devotional. Those interested can open YouVersion and search for “FCA” to find each day’s passages and follow along. Olympic standouts Tamika Catchings, Jordan Burroughs, Tobin Heath, David Boudia and Allyson Felix all contributed to the devotional.

Additionally, FCA has designed a 31-day “Road to Gold” prayer guide, available at www.fca.org/pray, which points the faithful to specific ways they can pray for coaches, athletes, chaplains and the games overall throughout the month of August. For example, for today, Day 15, “Pray for the officiating teams of each sport to have strength, alertness and courage to make the best calls.”

For more information about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, visit FCA’s web site at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.

 

Fellowship of Christian Athletes Presents Coach of the Year, Athlete of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Honors.

By Rev. Robert A. Crutchfield, Founder and Editor FaithINspires.Org

(Kansas City) This morning at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, http://www.fca.org) Breakfast at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention in Louisville, Ky., FCA honored Clemson University Head Coach Dabo Swinney as the recipient of the 2014 Grant Teaff Coach of the Year Award and longtime college coach Art Baker with the 2014 Grant Teaff Lifetime Achievement Award.  Just a day earler at the College Championship Breakfast FCA presented the 2014 Seminole Tribe of Florida Bobby Bowden Student Athlete of the Year Award to Bryce Petty of Baylor University.

“This morning, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes honored two coaching greats who have not only put many W’s in the win column, but also impacted countless players during their careers,” said Les Steckel, President and CEO of FCA. “We congratulate Clemson University Head Coach Dabo Swinney and longtime coaching great Art Baker for their many, many contributions to college football.”
Former FCA President Dal Shealy, who remains involved in football ministry, said of Baker: “Art has been involved in FCA for almost 60 years and has been one of the most faithful and committed Christian coaching men I have ever known. He has been an outstanding coach at each football game in which he has served, both as an assistant and as a head coach.”
Of Swinney, Shealy added: “Dabo is a man who teaches and coaches with character. He is a family man and a player’s coach, and he stands tall for Christ in everything he does.”
Named after Grant Teaff, former Baylor University coach, AFCA executive director and Trustee Emeritus of the FCA Board of Trustees, the Coach of the Year Award presented by FCA recognizes a football coach who exemplifies Christian principles and who is involved in FCA. The award is also based on the success and performance of the coach’s team that season. Previous winners include Tommy Bowden, Tommy Tuberville and Jerry Kill.
The Grant Teaff Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a coach who has committed his life to being a Christian influence in the lives of student-athletes. Previous winners include Jimmie Keeling, Fisher DeBerry, Jerry Moore, Mel Tjeerdsma, Houston Nutt, Tony Dungy and Ken Sparks.
Dabo Swinney, at Clemson for just seven years as head coach, is making progress toward joining the university’s coaching legends of the past. In 2014, he led the Tigers to a 10-3 record, along with a win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Over the past several seasons, Clemson has earned two top-10 rankings in the USA Today poll. From 2011-13, Clemson had a 32-8 record, the most wins in a three-year period in school history. Swinney has also led the Tigers to two ACC Championship games, winning one, and has won or shared three ACC Atlantic Division titles.
Swinney has been a four-time finalist for the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Award, which evaluates coaching performances in terms of coaching excellence, sportsmanship, integrity, academic excellence and community commitment. In 2013, he was also one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year Award for the second year in a row. Swinney was also named the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2011, as well as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year and the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year awards.
Swinney is active in his community through his foundation, which made the first contribution to the cancer fund established for former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich. Many schools followed his lead.
The 1993 Alabama graduate and wide receiver on Alabama’s 1992 National Championship team first joined the Clemson staff prior to the 2003 season, and has a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the nation. In 2006, he was listed as the No. 5 recruiter in the nation by Rivals.com and signed 38 players in his five recruiting seasons as an assistant coach.

Longtime coaching great Art Baker is a former head coach for Furman (1973-1977), The Citadel (1978-1982) and East Carolina (1985-1988). He is a 1953 graduate of Presbyterian College, where he also played football and served as an assistant coach.
Baker served as an assistant coach for Frank Howard at Clemson University from 1965-1969, at Texas Tech from 1970-1972, when he succeeded Bob King at Furman, and for Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 1984. As a head coach at Furman, Baker hired assistant coaches Dick Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield and Bobby Johnson, who all later became Furman head coaches.
Baker closed out his career on June 30, 1995, when he retired after six years as Associate Athletics Director for Development and Gamecock Club Director at the University of South Carolina.
The Florida Bobby Bowden Student Athlete of the Year Award was presented the day before at the College Championship Breakfast the at Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas.
The 2014 recipient is Bryce Petty, quarterback for Baylor University and a Midlothian, Texas, native. Petty was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Manning Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Big 12 Player of the Year. He completed 36 of 51 passes for 550 yards at the very close 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
Bobby Bowden, former longtime head coach at Florida State University, was the featured speaker at the awards breakfast. Bowden amassed a career head coaching record of 410-141-1 and is the winningest coach in major college football. FCA President and CEO Les Steckel also gave brief remarks at the breakfast.
“Sunday’s Bobby Bowden Awards Breakfast was a celebration of student-athletes across the nation, many of whom will go on to become professional men and women, parents and community leaders,” Steckel said. “We congratulate Bryce for his stellar season, his leadership on and off the field and his academic achievements.”
Speaking to Baylor of the award, Petty said, “This is meaningful for me for two reasons. First it’s an award about Christ, and to me that’s the ultimate prize anyway – when we talk about success, it needs to be credited to the One who has enabled us to have success.
“Second, the platform we have as football players is not to be taken for granted. Too often, players think it’s just about them and get too caught up in thinking that all have the same opportunity and that’s not true. We’ve been given a great opportunity – we need to keep it in perspective – it’s not just about wins on the field, it’s as much about off the field accomplishments.”
The other two finalists for the award were:
Mark Murphy, safety for Indiana University and an Akron, Ohio, native who started 42 of his 47 career games. He recorded 279 tackles and two interception touchdown returns in 2014 and became the third Hoosier to collect Capital One Academic All-America honors twice. This season, he also earned the National Football Foundation’s Scholar-Athlete Award, and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award, the AFCA Good Works Team and the Wuerffel Trophy.

Deterrian “D.T.” Shackelford, linebacker for Ole Miss and a Decatur, Ala., native who was named to the preseason watch list for the Lott IMPACT Trophy for the second straight year and became the first ever two-time recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award. He was also the Wuerffel Trophy winner, the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Captain and earned Capital One Academic All-District VI honors.
The Bobby Bowden Award recognizes the Football Bowl Subdivision player who epitomizes a student-athlete. He must conduct himself as an exemplary model in the classroom, on the field, on campus and in the community.
The award, sponsored by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, was conceived by Vince Gibson, a former Bowden assistant at South Georgia College who went on to become head coach at Kansas State, Louisville and Tulane before he passed away in 2012 from Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Vernon Brinson, one of Bowden’s former players at South Georgia College in the 1950s.
Past winners of the Bobby Bowden Award have included: Jason Wright, Northwestern University (2003); Billy Bajema, Oklahoma State University (2004); D.J. Shockley, University of Georgia (2005); Carl Pendleton, University of Oklahoma (2006); Jacob Tamme, University of Kentucky (2007); Stephen McGee, Texas A&M (2008); Colt McCoy, University of Texas (2009); Christian Ponder, Florida State University (2010); Case Keenum, University of Houston (2011); Ashton Richardson, Auburn University (2012); and Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (2013).

Fellowship of Christian Athletes Celebrates 60 Years of Touching Lives

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Dec. 19, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — Sixty years ago, a young basketball coach, Don McClanen, wondered why athletes endorsed products like shaving cream and cigarettes, but not a Christian lifestyle. That insight became the backbone for one of the largest organizations in the world that serves athletes and coaches, all while bringing glory to Jesus Christ.

Now, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org), founded by McClanen in 1954, is celebrating six decades of touching lives—one heart at a time.

“To look back over 60 years and realize the athletes and coaches who have been shaped by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is remarkable,” said Les Steckel, FCA President and CEO. “We are so thankful for all who have helped FCA grow to where it is today and have encouraged young athletes to lead lives that are dedicated to Christ, both on and off the playing field. Athletics offers continual opportunity either to portray Christ or to elevate the world’s standards. By choosing to honor Christ, players and coaches impact not only their own teams but also all who interact with them, look up to them and even oppose them on the playing fields.”

The first FCA National Conference was held in 1956 in Estes Park, Colo.—a precursor to today’s FCA Camps, which are a staple of FCA’s ministry, growing to 516 camps in 40 states and 33 countries with an attendance of 86,557 in 2014. This past summer, 10,137 campers made a first-time commitment to Christ, and 9,642 more rededicated their lives to Him.

Building on the words of Billy Graham, who said, “A coach will influence more people in a year than most people will in a lifetime,” FCA focuses on reaching coaches as well as athletes.

According to the FCA web site, “For 60 years, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has never stopped moving, never stopped growing. Whether it existed only in the form of a dream and stack of old magazine articles in a basketball coach’s dresser drawer, or in the very real possibility of reaching every corner of the earth, the vision remains the same: to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.”

For more information about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, visit www.fca.org.

Ohio Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Rutherford Institute’s Case of Science Teacher Fired for Urging Students to Think Critically About Evolution

The Kokosing River in Mount Vernon, Ohio

The Kokosing River in Mount Vernon, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio, July 6, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — The Ohio Supreme Court has granted The Rutherford Institute’s appeal to hear the case of John Freshwater, a Christian teacher who was fired for keeping religious articles in his classroom and for using teaching methods that encourage public school students to think critically about the school’s science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories. Freshwater, a 24-year veteran in the classroom, was suspended by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in 2008 and officially terminated in January 2011. The School Board justified its actions by accusing Freshwater of improperly injecting religion into the classroom by giving students “reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general.” The Board also claimed that Freshwater failed to remove “all religious articles” from his classroom, including a Bible.

 

The Rutherford Institute’s appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is available online.

 

“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don’t need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves.”

 

In June 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to suspend John Freshwater, a Christian with a 20-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, citing concerns about his conduct and teaching materials, particularly as they related to the teaching of evolution. Earlier that year, school officials reportedly ordered Freshwater, who had served as the faculty appointed facilitator, monitor, and supervisor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group for 16 of the 20 years that he taught at Mount Vernon, to remove “all religious items” from his classroom, including a Ten Commandments poster displayed on the door of his classroom, posters with Bible verses, and his personal Bible which he kept on his desk. Freshwater agreed to remove all items except for his Bible. Showing their support for Freshwater, students even organized a rally in his honor. They also wore t-shirts with crosses painted on them to school and carried Bibles to class. School officials were seemingly unswayed by the outpouring of support for Freshwater.

 

In fact, despite the fact that the Board’s own policy states that because religious traditions vary in their treatment of science, teachers should give unbiased instruction so that students may evaluate it “in accordance with their own religious tenets,” school officials suspended and eventually fired Freshwater, allegedly for criticizing evolution and using unapproved materials to facilitate classroom discussion of origins of life theories. Freshwater appealed the termination in state court, asserting that the school’s actions violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and constituted hostility toward religion. A Common Pleas judge upheld the School Board’s decision, as did the Fifth District Court of Appeals, without analyzing these constitutional claims. In appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court, Institute attorneys argued that the Board through its actions violated the First Amendment academic freedom rights of both Freshwater and his students.

 

Congressional Prayer Caucus Urges Vanderbilt University to Stop Discriminating Against Religious Student Groups

Vanderbilt Commons.

Vanderbilt Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, along with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Diane Black, led 36 Members of Congress in sending a second letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school’s nondiscrimination policy is not being interpreted in a manner that discriminates against religious student groups.
Last year, several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt University, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on “provisional status” for requiring their student leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs. If Vanderbilt does not change its nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of religious student groups, at least 11 groups will be forced to leave campus and drop their affiliation with the university.
“I fully respect a private institution’s right to set its own policies. However, I am deeply concerned that Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy unfairly targets religious student groups in a hostile manner that is forcing them to seek refuge off campus and immediately drop any affiliation they once enjoyed with the university,” Blackburn said. “It’s my hope that Chancellor Zeppos and Vanderbilt’s Board will re-construct their nondiscrimination policy to reflect the freedom that religious student groups have been provided under federal law.”
“Freedom of religion is fundamental to our Republic. Vanderbilt’s “all comers” policy infringes on that right. By exempting Greek organizations but refusing to exempt religious organizations it appears that religious discrimination is the aim of this policy,” said Black. “As a private institution Vanderbilt is not exempt from the Constitution and I encourage them to rethink this misguided policy.”
Congressman Forbes added: “Vanderbilt’s policy defies common sense. Religious student groups form around specific beliefs, and their leaders obviously lead the groups’ activities. As such, religious groups must be allowed to select leaders that share their core religious beliefs in order to carry out their most basic functions. It is not discrimination; it is common sense.”
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus sent the first letter to Vanderbilt University in October 2011 expressing their concerns with this troubling policy. The current form of the policy allows an exemption for Greek organizations, but does not allow one for religious student organizations. This policy not only discriminates against religious student groups whose rights are protected by the Constitution, but also leaves the appearance that it is the religious groups that are specifically targeted.