The US population is currently more diverse than at any other point in history. The growing differences among us often lead to conflict, polarization and alienation among groups. In these highly sensitive times, should we be afraid to voice our opinions?
One college football coach has been criticized recently for asserting that prayer should be included in training. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, University of Connecticut Assistant Football Coach, Ernest Jones, explained his coaching philosophy:
“We’re going to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, that that’s something that is important…if you want to be successful and you want to win, get championships then you better understand that this didn’t happen because of you. This happened because of our Lord and Savior.”
Uproar from students and employees of the University followed Jones's statement. Soon after, the president of the University issued an apology stating that they do not support Jones’s statements and that the University of Connecticut is tolerant of all religions.
All of the backlash and criticism ultimately boils down to a distinction: private versus public institutions. Jones was formerly coach at the University of Notre Dame, a private institution. As a private, Catholic institution Notre Dame is permitted to promote its religious values throughout campus. Jones is now employed by The University of Connecticut, a public university and a non-sectarian institution funded by the state. Public institutions should not create boundaries by abiding by any religious or ethnic customs as to ensure the equal tolerance to all.
Forcing religion or any personal values onto someone else is wrong in any circumstance. Pressuring any UConn football player to attend a liturgy, prayer or even dialogue about a specific religion is completely out of the question, but the current outrage may be misguided in some cases.
Calling for his resignation solely on the admission of his beliefs without any proof of malicious action is wrong, however uncomfortable it may make some people. The First Amendment grants all citizens the free exercise of religion, not religious indifference. The First Amendment was created to protect all religious expression among citizens, specifically interfering only with the freedom of those who are subversive to good order.
Coach Jones wasn’t performing a human sacrifice or any illegal act. He was simply candid about his personal Christian beliefs. Regardless of popularity, anyone should be able to publicly express a religious ideology or belief without becoming ostracized. The freedoms granted to Americans cannot be used only when it makes us feel comfortable. By making others scared to express any particular opinion, we may easily become like the foreign countries many of us fear today. The United States was built as a free and pluralist society, where differences are welcome. It’s what makes us great.