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AU blows whistle on Kansas coach's religious practices. (People & Events).

Attorneys with Americans United have warned officials at Kansas State University to discontinue religious activity and discriminatory hiring policies in the women's basketball program.

Women's basketball coach Deb Patterson has instituted group prayers with team players before games, has appointed a team chaplain from a local fundamentalist church and has stated that she hires staffers who share her faith. AU says these practices at a public university run afoul of the First Amendment.

The letter notes that although some federal courts have upheld non-sectarian prayers at university graduation ceremonies, it does not follow that a coach may pressure players to take part in Christian worship.

Observed the letter, "Though the team prayer session itself may not officially be mandatory, the hierarchical nature of the player-coach relationship is such that players will feel pressured to attend."

The letter also noted that The Manhattan Mercury reported Feb. 2 that Patterson "has put in place a group whose priorities and spiritual foundations mirror hers." Patterson is quoted as saying that it is her hope that, "We could build a program where we could talk about our faith, talk about the Lord."

AU attorneys pointed out that hiring on the basis of religion is forbidden at public universities.

Finally, the attorneys asserted that the team's use of a chaplain presents constitutional problems as well. Chaplains, the letter notes, have been approved only in limited circumstances such as in the military, not in colleges where students can easily access a variety of houses of worship.

The letter asks the university to "take measures to cure these violations and encourage Coach Patterson to find alternative ways of fostering team unity."

In other news about religion in public schools:

* Sectarian prayers at a public university in Missouri have drawn protest from Americans United. In December of 2002, Missouri State Southern College in Joplin, Mo., asked the Rev. Henry M. Pullum of Calvary Baptist Church to offer a benediction at graduation. Pullum offered his prayer as a "talk to the Lord" and ended in "the name of thy darling son, Jesus."

Pullum also performed a song at the end of the ceremony that included the words, "Walk with me, Lord, walk with me.... I want Jesus to walk with me.... And now, in the grace and love of God, the fellowship and sweet communion of the Holy Spirit be with each and every one of us."

AU attorneys asserted that federal courts have upheld only non-sectarian prayers at public university graduations and requested that the practice of sectarian prayers and songs be terminated at the school.

* Officials at the Coppell Independent School District in Coppell, Texas, have been urged to drop plans to include references to a "Supreme Being" in the district's strategic plan.

The plan currently includes the phrase, "We believe that ... faith in a Supreme Being adds meaning to life." In a letter to the district board and superintendent, AU attorneys argue that the policy amounts to government advancement of religion.

"The Strategic Plan ... sends the message that members of polytheistic faiths and non-religious persons are not welcome in Coppell," reads the AU letter. "The Board of Trustees represents all of the children in a school district, not only those who adhere to the majority religious tradition."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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