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Fellowship of Christian Opportunism

Getting around the law is an American sport. Especially when it comes to the requirement that religion and public education be kept separate.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was created in 1947 by a young football coach called Don McClanen in Norman, Okla. (a city known these days for being the home of the nation’s Storm Prediction Center). The group pushed calisthenics and Christianity, with heavy and unapologetic emphasis on Christianity. It counted among its members Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks (he was also a U.S. senator and Democratic presidential contender), Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles.

The 1960s posed a bit of a challenge for the group when the U.S. Supreme Court finally and explicitly banned prayer in school. But the ban emboldened the FCA to find new ways to insinuate itself on campus. It has. Under pretenses of merely encouraging “belief,” the group holds such events as “Fields of Faith” on high school and college campuses around the country. It held one at Naples High School on Oct. 13.

“It is a time to encourage each other and to encourage faith on campus,” Gretchen Shelton, executive director of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes of Southwest Florida, told the Naples Daily News. “Tonight is not about what church you go to or about what school you go to. ... Statistics say we are losing the next generation. We are here tonight to take them back.” At least Shelton isn’t being coy about the fellowship’s aims. It’s not about “faith,” but about Christianity. You’re not likely to see very many Muslims spreading their prayer rugs and facing Mecca at these events, or Jews reciting from the Torah, or, for that matter, any atheists plying their faith in a lack of it. The congregants in Naples were virtually all Christian and thumping for Jesus. According to a 16 year old there, “God’s doing great things in Naples. He’s doing great things in the public schools.” Evidence of course is not a strong point at these events.

Since the fellowship’s productions are not held during school hours, they don’t amount, strictly speaking, to lawbreaking. But the group could not exist without its operational structure within schools and colleges during school, where it advertises and recruits—not for “faith,” but for Christianity. Nothing mysterious about those ways.

 
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