Colorado head coach Deion Sanders has yet to officially appear on the sidelines for the Buffaloes after taking the job in December, but he’s 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 gig, he was mocked for saying that God sent him to become the coach of Jackson State but left the job anyway.
With kickoff to the 2023 Buffaloes season just months away, Sanders is now in the middle between two religious groups. One group that wants Colorado to force him to stop preaching his religious beliefs to his players while another one warned the university that telling him to do so could infringe on his rights.
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The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the University of Colorado a letter on Jan. 24 about Sanders’ references to Christianity and claimed they were contacted by residents who were concerned players were potentially being pressured to pray during their team meetings.
The letter also pointed to one 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 that God has put us in place to be in charge of. We thank You for each player here, each coach, each family. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
The group called on the university to teach Sanders about “his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause” and to “ensure that 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 to 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 the next week, saying Sanders was “very receptive to this training and came away from it with a better understanding of the University of Colorado’s policies and the requirements of the Establishment Clause,” according to the Deseret News. The school said if a player had a problem with prayers in the future it would direct them to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance.
First Liberty Institute came to the defense of Sanders in February and made clear the school could be violating Sanders’ rights in relation to the 2022 Supreme Court case – Kennedy v. Bremerton.
“We write to correct the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF’s) misstatements regarding the requirements imposed by the First Amendment on public school employees’ religious expression,” the letter from First Liberty Institute read. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public school employees may engage in religious expression and exercise; therefore, public universities like CU may not target Coach Sanders (or other members of the 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 determined the school violated the coach’s First Amendment rights for trying to stop his prayers.
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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 contended in its initial letter to Colorado that the Kennedy v. Bremerton case “did not alter the law regarding these kinds of coercive prayer practices, nor did it overrule these previous decisions.”
Sanders has continuously credited his faith for getting over huge obstacles in his life, including a serious health issue that led to two toes being amputated.
“I can’t walk on my own and people have to help me get in and out of everything, and I say, ‘Lord, I thank you,’” he’s previously said. “You say, ‘Prime, 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 high-prized recruits in the short span he was there.