Response to Freedom From Religion’s Letter to UGA President Regarding Football Chaplains at UGA

The following letter was submitted in response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter requesting the University of Georgia to Replace Football Chaplains with its Proposed Secular Policy:

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
P.O. Box 750 Madison, WI 53701

Dear Mr. Barker and Ms. Gaylor:

I am writing on behalf of The Catholic-American Center on Law and Religion, Inc. (an organization which seeks to engage and dialogue with non-believers from a Catholic-American perspective) regarding the proposed “model Policy” you submitted to the University of Georgia.

Although I do not purport to speak on behalf of the University, I respectfully ask you to consider withdrawing your proposed “model Policy” because the proposed Policy would actually require the University to entangle itself deeply and fundamentally into religious affairs in a manner that is qualitatively and quantitatively greater than the alleged objectionable chaplaincy anecdotes that you vaguely reference in your letter and in your website.

Specifically, through your proposed Policy, your organization is basically urging the University to make theological determinations and dogmatic pronouncements that would fundamentally and very profoundly require the University to entangle itself with purely religious and theological realities and specifically alienate and offend all but a few students who share your specific religious/theological position (i.e., that all human virtues are of a “secular” nature).  Such a religious and theological conclusion would not only require the University to coerce Christian students into an untenable religious position, but the University would also be “coercing” your atheists’ clients into an objectionable religious position as well.

For example, the proposed Policy urges the University, as a state actor, to promulgate a religious position that the virtue known as “humility” is a secular value. (See proposed Policy highlighting “humility” as a noteworthy, secular virtue for student athletes). This would require the University to make the following theological and religious determination as a matter of state policy: 1) that “humility” is a worthy and desirable attribute for student athletes/football players; and 2) the human quality known as “humility,” theologically and religiously speaking, is a “secular value.” As an aside, I am not advocating for any position relating to humility and football. For me personally, if I were a UGA football coach, I am not sure that I would spend much time talking about “humility” to my players, particularly to those playing defense – I’m personally good with “hunkering down.” But if a coach did happen to refer to “humility,” it would require an entanglement of the University into religion for him to make the theological pronouncement that “humility” is a “secular value.”

Ironically, your proposed Policy is overtly hostile towards the atheists students as well as the Christian students. Please make no mistake about one thing: Your Policy not only requires the University to impermissibly entangle itself into religious affairs, but your Policy would also require the University to take a theological position which is anathema the very student clients you purport to represent – atheists.   Although it may be comforting to your non-believer clients for the University to make the theological determination that “humility” is a “secular virtue,” such a determination would be tantamount to coercing your atheist student clients into a worldview which is as antagonistic to their core belief system as it is on the Christian student.

Although American atheists have failed to emerge as a unified social group, the atheists students who remain true to their founding principles, will vehemently object to your Policy because a true atheist student would object to having “humility” even discussed, much less made a state sponsored virtue by means of policy.   A true atheist student would follow the lead of its founding members, such as the great Friedrich Nietzsche, an atheist who took his opposition to Christian virtues rather seriously. Nietzsche rightly recognized “humility” as a Christian reality; and he vehemently opposed humility, as such, with all the vitriol he could muster.   In his Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche explicitly takes on “humility” by analogizing Christian “humility” to the actions of a worm when he observed:  “When stepped on, the worm curls up. That is a clever thing to do. Thus it reduces its chances of being stepped on again.” As fairly and aptly summarized in Wikipedia, “Nietzsche argues that the slave morality of Christianity has so infected Western culture that now even the masters view humility as a virtue” (See Wikipedia, Virtue) (emphasis added).

And as to the Christian students, the proposed Policy impermissibly promotes “unlawful religious coercion” (to use a phrase you have used) because it coerces the Christian student into the untenable existential position of having to deny the truth of Jesus of Nazareth. To the Christian student, the virtue of humility finds its deepest and fullest expression through the Christological hermeneutic. In other words, only in reflecting on the awesome reality that the Son of God took the form of a human person, humbled himself even unto death, and paradoxically, redeemed us by this act of pure unconditional love, does the Christian student fully and most reasonably comprehend the reality we call “humility.”   And although nonbeliever students are more than welcome to share in this virtue/reality and are entitled to use Free Speech Rights appropriate in a University setting to make the case (based on Kant or any other philosopher) that the virtue can be viewed without reference to Jesus of Nazareth (for them personally), it would be a violation of the Constitution for the University to adopt this position, as a theological and religious position.

Thus, please consider withdrawing your proposed “model Policy,” as it would require the University to do the very things you claim should be avoided.

Respectfully Submitted,

Charles Gernazian, Esq.

Director, Catholic-American Center on Law and Religion, Inc. (J.D., UGA, 1991)

CC: President Jere Morehead, University of Georgia