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Athletics Council recommendation


Date:June 26, 2007

To:Gregory L. Geoffroy, President

From:Tim Day, Athletics Council Chair

Subject: Petition concerning football program chaplain

On behalf of the ISU Athletics Council, I am responding to your request to provide advice regarding the conditions under which a team chaplain for an athletic team would or would not be acceptable. In so doing, you also asked the Council to consider a petition opposing establishment of a team chaplain position. The arguments advanced in the petition primarily rested on legal grounds, focusing on the First Amendment's establishment clause. Our Athletics Council lacks legal expertise, so we have not focused our efforts toward an analysis of the legal issues. Rather, we have focused our efforts on assessing what type of policy is in the best interest of ISU and all of its Student-Athletes.

We also recognized and considered seriously other issues raised by the petitioners and other thoughtful persons, including (1) potential adverse consequences to student athletes subscribing to a faith different from that of a chaplain, or holding no faith conviction, (2) that a chaplain would not serve a secular purpose, (3) that the presence of a chaplain could implicitly endorse one religion over another, and (4) that a chaplain could make ISU susceptible to abuses. As discussed in the recommendations below, we assert that these reservations voiced by the petitioners and other reservations discussed by the Council can be addressed by specifying conditions and safeguards under which any such volunteer would function in the ISU Athletics Department. In discussing this issue the Council reviewed the history and current use of faith-based volunteers by other head coaches in the ISU Athletics Department and the lack of any identifiable problems with these volunteers in the past.

Although the term "chaplain" has, in fact, traditionally denoted a person with inter-denominational and inter-faith responsibilities, it is not always perceived as such. Further, a chaplain is typically thought of as primarily delivering faith resources and services. While the Athletics Council recommendation allows a volunteer to provide such services, we recommend that any person involved in such activity would keep a broad perspective, facilitating the availability of the entire range of religious and non-religious counseling services available at ISU and in the Ames community. For these reasons, we recommend against using the label "chaplain" to describe any such position. Other labels not implying that the volunteer's responsibilities are limited solely to religious counseling or religious services would be preferable, and terms such as "Life Skills Assistant" would be permissible. Our recommendations would apply to all volunteers who are given special access to Student-Athletes in order to provide religious or faith-based counseling or support.

Recommendation from the ISU Athletics Council

The Athletics Council recommends that coaches should be allowed, under specific guidelines and with specific safeguards in place, to use volunteer personnel to help Student-Athletes obtain access to faith resources of their choice. Such a person should serve in a volunteer role and not be funded with any State, University, Athletics Department or ISU Foundation funds other than being provided access to the necessary Athletics Department facilities (locker room, meeting rooms, etc.) and activities (games, practices, meetings, etc.) as required to provide the specific services requested. Any volunteers given special access to ISU Student-Athletes with the purpose of providing any form of religious or faith-based support should be provided with written guidelines and a description of their responsibilities which have been approved by University Counsel.

The Athletics Council acknowledges the extremely diverse and vibrant religious communities present on the ISU campus and within the Ames community. These resources include a remarkable number of registered student organizations on campus with religious objectives that are extremely active and engaged with students all over ISU. These resources also include a number of active churches and faith communities representing a range of religions and denominations, both on campus and in the surrounding community.

The Athletics Council also recognizes that many of our Student-Athletes are faced with challenges deriving from their status as Student-Athletes. For example, due to their public profile, our Student-Athletes sometimes have needs for heightened confidentiality related to sensitive issues. Further, their commitments to ISU often include inordinate schedule inflexibility. These types of unique challenges can make it more difficult for our Student-Athletes to find important faith resources in times of need.

For these reasons, we find it reasonable for ISU and the Athletics Department to allow coaches to seek a volunteer with the specific purpose of helping Student-Athletes gain access to and become connected with the existing faith communities and religious resources on the ISU campus and throughout the Ames community. Any such volunteer should not focus on generating new resources of any particular denomination or faith, but they should focus on facilitating Student-Athlete access to already-existing resources and structures. The volunteer position should have inter-faith and inter-denominational responsibilities.

In suggesting this provision, which takes seriously the faith needs of our Student-Athletes, the Athletics Council also recognizes the University's obligation to protect against discrimination based upon race, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, marital status, disability, or status as a US veteran, as described in the ISU non-discrimination policy. The Council further recognizes the obligation to protect all of our Student-Athletes against coercion toward religion or a particular religious viewpoint, as well as coercion away from religious faith or practice. Therefore, the Athletics Council recommends a number of limitations on the activity of volunteers providing religious or faith-based counseling and proposes a series of safeguards.

A volunteer given special access to Student-Athletes to provide religious or faith-based counseling should be explicitly prohibited from

  • acting as an agent to establish a particular religion or denomination
  • pressuring Student-Athletes to choose religion over non-religion
  • coercing students to participate in any type of religious activity

  • leading any team activities with religious content, including prayer or religious studies, that are mandatory
  • discriminating against any Student-Athlete as prohibited by University policy and articulated in the Student Organizations Guidelines. (See PDF file.)

Further, a volunteer given special access to Student-Athletes to provide religious or faith-based counseling

  • should be available to all Student-Athletes as time permits
  • should be required to maintain the confidentiality of Student-Athletes. This reinforces the volunteer's role as a safe place for Student-Athletes to seek guidance of their choice without fear of discrimination from coaches or others.
  • should be available to meet the faith needs of Student-Athletes of all faiths equally, not only to those who share their particular denomination or faith
  • may engage in religious activity with Student-Athletes seeking such engagement outside of team functions.

The following mechanisms should also be employed to guard against abuses or coercion by any volunteer given special access to Student-Athletes to provide religious or faith-based counseling

  • A yearly, anonymous questionnaire and assessment filled out by all Student-Athletes. This will take the form of additional questions on the annual questionnaire administered to all our Student-Athletes, which is monitored by personnel outside of the Athletics Department.
  • An ongoing mechanism is available to report instances of coercion or pressure, or patterns of discrimination, to any of the following
    • The Faculty Athletics Representative, or
    • The Student Athlete Activities Council (SAAC), or
    • The ISU Athletics Council, or
    • The ISU Student Counseling Service, or
    • Athletics Department Administrators

The specifics of these mechanisms should be communicated orally to all Student-Athletes at annual team meetings with Compliance Staff, and published routinely in the Student-Athlete Handbook.