The Chaplain Controversy Continues

The story just won't go away, mainly because the man pictured left won't let it. ISU's militant atheist religious studies professor, Dr. Hector Avalos, continues his effort to block Gene Chizik's plan for a chaplain for the football program. That means our publisher will continue his effort to stand up for the program.

As you might imagine, the piece I wrote last week generated a lot of response. In fact, it generated more response than anything else in the history of this website – with the exception of my temporary "retirement" from CN back in 2005. In case you missed it, or feel you need a refresher on what originally sparked this controversy, click here:

Part of the response to last week's blog were questions – both pro and con – from residents of Cyclone Nation. Those questions provide an excellent opportunity to clarify my thoughts on the ISU chaplain controversy, as well as to try and provide a constructive forum for such a contentious issue. Below, I've taken the seven most frequent responses to my blog that I came across on the message boards/email, and I've answered them in a corporate setting because I know many of you have the same questions as well.

1. Why do you think an atheist shouldn't be allowed to teach religious studies at ISU?

I have no idea where this idea came from, but I saw it several times on message boards and in emails. I've also seen just as much feedback from people who had no idea a militant atheist was working in ISU's religious studies department. I never said that Dr. Avalos shouldn't be allowed to teach religious studies at Iowa State. What I said was that it's ironic that an activist atheist would want to teach religious studies at all. I have no interest in automobile repair or carpentry, that's why I don't teach shop class. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that somehow he could leave his atheism at the door, teach objectively, and without an agenda. But that's just me. I guess I'm just naturally suspicious.

To that some of you took exception and said that I was unfair to Dr. Avalos. Fair enough. Perhaps the following quote might make you reconsider that stance:

In fact, Mein Kampf does not contain a single explicit command for genocide equivalent to those found in the Hebrew Bible... Thus, if all of Mein Kampf is to be rejected simply for its implied genocidal policies, we should certainly reject all of the Bible for some of its explicit and blatant genocidal policies.

That quote is taken from page 363 in the chapter "Scripture: A Zero Tolerance Argument" from the book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Guess who wrote that book? That's right, Hector Avalos, religious studies professor at Iowa State University.

A man who receives your tax dollars in his paycheck believes that the Bible is worse than Hitler's manifesto. And some of you think I'm the extremist?

Iowa State is welcome to have working for it whomever they want. However, you as the taxpayers have a say in electing those who place people on the Iowa Board of Regents that employ those that give tenure to radicals like Dr. Avalos.

And if you think having a militant atheist wreaking havoc on campus without any balance from the other side doesn't matter, than you haven't been reading ISU message boards lately. ISU is a world-class agricultural school, among other things, not an elitist institution that produces the next batch of pseudo-intellectuals that believe all sex is rape, even in marriage. That happens with law professors like Catherine MacKinnon at the University of Michigan, not ISU. ISU produces down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth graduates who stay in Iowa and contribute to the landscape. However, when you allow Dr. Avalos the opportunity to indoctrinate an entire generation of young people without balance, you end up with some of the stuff that's been posted on these ISU message boards lately.

Stuff that completely disregards respect for the practice of the Judeo-Christian ethic that founded this country. Stuff that completely disregards the very Judeo-Christian ethic that provides Dr. Avalos his academic freedom to spew his venom in the first place. Stuff that disregards the notion that people can do with their own money whatever they want provided it's lawful. But so much for the basics of the American ideal in this politically correct day and age. I mean those are just for traditional fuddy-duddies and intolerant bigots. In the new America, our national motto now is, "I emote, therefore I am."

As one ISU grad told me this week in an email (paraphrasing here):

"What has happened to my school? I'm reading some of the stuff from my fellow Cyclones on these message boards and I'm wondering when we became a stuffy, pretentious, snobby institution like the University of Iowa? When did we start dissing the worship of God at ISU? Aren't we an ag school that believes in mainstream values? I thought so. I thought we were regular people. That's why I can't believe what some of my fellow Cyclones are saying."

In the end, you the taxpayer get to decide if Dr. Avalos should be able to teach at ISU or not, since you're footing the bill. I would never advocate removing someone from their academic post just because I don't agree with them. That's free speech, and since God provides Dr. Avalos the freedom to challenge him who am I to step in and deny him that opportunity?

Nevertheless, ideas have consequences. When Dr. Avalos speaks to his classes his ideas are not falling on deaf ears. Just read our message boards last week for further evidence of that.

2. Doesn't the football team having a chaplain violate the separation of church and state?


Wait, you want more of an explanation? Of course, you do, because like me you went to public school and got worked over. So let's take a little impromptu history lesson, shall we?

The words "separation of church and state" are found nowhere in the Constitution. In fact, they don't appear in the American ideal at all until a letter that President Thomas Jefferson penned to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The Danbury Baptists were not a part of the Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut, and believed they were being left out of civic affairs as a result. They wrote a letter to President Jefferson seeking his support, since he had defended the rights of Baptists when he was in Virginia.

The Danbury Baptists also wanted President Jefferson to clarify what the Constitution said about religion. They were concerned that if the Constitution meant that the free exercise of religion came from the state (and not from God), that someday in the future the government could actually take that right away or restrict it—sort of like we're doing today. To that point Jefferson wrote the following:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

In other words, the wall of separation of church and state was meant to defend the church from the state, not the state from the church. Otherwise, it would contradict the idea that "Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof." We have a freedom of religion in America, not a freedom from religion.

Our Founding Fathers were men that came out of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, two movements that responded to what happens when the church is corrupted by the state, or political power. If you read the Federalist Papers, the sermon notes for the Constitution if you will, it's clear the Founding Fathers were concerned with one Christian denomination using the state to exercise power over the other, which is what happened to the Danbury Baptists, not the restriction of Christianity from the public sphere altogether.

Now, we obviously live in a far more pluralistic and multicultural America than what our Founding Fathers established. But the same principle still applies. Having a team chaplain in no way infringes on the rights of the minority because it is voluntary, not compulsory.

And Gene Chizik's plan for a chaplain on government property is hardly a new idea. Some of the first legislative action taken in the history of the United States involved chaplains. The Continental-Confederation Congress of 1774-1789, the first governing body of the United States of America, created chaplains for both the Congress and the military and sponsored the publication of the Bible for the masses. An interesting little factoid, for those that love trivia, is that the first American chaplain appointed by Congress, Jacob Duche, ended up to defecting to the British!

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate still have a chaplain. There are thousands of chaplains in the U.S. military. They're all paid by taxpayers. Heck, even the Wiccans have a chaplain. In addition, there are chaplains all throughout the state of Iowa. For instance, the Iowa State Patrol currently has 33 chaplains. There are chaplains compensated by state government here in Iowa.

You may not like Christians, Biblical morality, and think Jesus is a fraud. You're entitled to your opinion and I respect that. What all of the information I just provided indicates, however, is that you clearly don't have the right to deny ISU's football players a chaplain on the basis of separation of church and state.

3. Who's going to pay for this?

For the 1,340,683rd time, this will be paid for with private money. Private money. That's right, private money. You got that? Private money. No, really, it will be paid for with private money. Seriously, it's going to be privately funded. Maybe you haven't heard, but the chaplain will be paid for with private funds.

Back in 2002, former ISU softball coach Ruth Crowe thought she had the right to protest a pregame prayer at Baylor University on the basis of separation of church and state. Problem was that Baylor is the largest privately funded Baptist institution in America. The state has no jurisdiction on private property. Yet, she persisted in her ill-fated protest nonetheless, and had she won the precedent would've been set that you can't worship according to the dictates of your own conscious on private property. Her worldview only contradicted the founding philosophy of America, that's all. She would've undone "don't tread on me."

Along those same lines, the state has no jurisdiction here because the position is privately funded. If ISU were to decide that the football coach couldn't privately solicit funds for a chaplain, it would not being doing so because of the separation of church and state. Private money gives the state no jurisdiction. It would be doing so because it doesn't want a Christian minister associated with its football program. The last I checked, we have a word for decisions like that.

That word is discrimination.

4. Why does Gene Chizik need a team chaplain?

The same reason Gene Chizik needs the Tampa-2 defense, a quarterback with pinpoint accuracy, and an offensive line that can move the line of scrimmage. Because he believes it will make his program successful in the longrun by providing for the spiritual needs of his student-athletes. He's also not the only person who thinks that the spiritual needs of ISU students is important.

Right now at Iowa State, there are 120 members of the "Christian Faculty and Staff Association." That's one for every faculty member that signed Dr. Avalos' petition against the ISU team chaplain, by the way. In a recent welcome letter to new ISU students they wrote the following:

College is about learning, and at college, you'll be learning about life, in addition to mathematics and business and literature. You'll also learn that there are many truth claims about the world we live in. We believe that the truth about life has been revealed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

This note is meant to reach out to Christian students on campus who would like a support structure to live out their belief system, as well as deal with the various choices and temptations college students first entering adulthood must make every day. If the Christian students at-large on campus have access to a group like this, then why can't the Christian football players on the squad have the same? And before you ask why they can't just utilize this organization like every other student at ISU, please remember that ISU football players have a schedule unique to just about every other student on the ISU campus.

That's why they have dedicated academic help apart from the rest of the students on campus, too.

This same note includes the following disclaimer at the bottom:

This ad reflects the personal convictions of the individuals listed above; this does not represent or support any view or position of Iowa State University or any academic department. It does acknowledge the diversity of contributions to Iowa State University by men and women of various race, ethnicity, and cultural background who share the Christian faith.

Perhaps a similar disclaimer in the job description of the football team chaplain would be enough to satisfy detractors, since the group that posted the above disclaimer is an officially recognized campus organization.

5. What about the players who aren't Christians?

Again, utilization of the chaplain is voluntary. Just like when you sign up for Dr. Avalos' religious studies class. Except while you're in there you have to be subjected to his beliefs.

Furthermore, the likelihood of offending non-Christians is not nearly as high as you might think. According to census data from the U.S. Government in 2002:

  • 78% of Americans identify themselves as Christians (53% Protestant, 25% Roman Catholic, 1% Orthodox).
  • 2% of Americans identify themselves as Jewish.
  • 2% of Americans identify themselves as Mormon.
  • 8% identify themselves as "other" (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, etc.)
  • 9% identify themselves as non-religious.

Some of you, like Dr. Avalos for instance, may not like this and would like to wish it weren't true, but according to that data it's clear what the dominant belief system is in America today. Last I checked this was a country predicated on majority rule. When five Supreme Court justices rule one way in a case, the other four are allowed to voice their opinion but we don't throw out the majority ruling do we? Nope, 5-4 is still a majority, albeit a slim one. 78% looks like a far more dominant majority to me.

What we're talking about here is not serving the needs of up to 78% of the football players at ISU so as to not offend a very select minority, even if it exists currently on the team—which is debatable. That is preposterous logic. Heck, it's not even logic at all. It's irrational emotion, and healthy civilizations don't subscribe to irrational emotion.

In the last gubernatorial election, Chet Culver beat Jim Nussle like a redheaded stepchild. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he won by only one vote. You know what, he'd still be governor, he'd still get to legally appoint all the department heads at the state level, and he'd still be the most powerful man in Iowa. Even if he won by one vote. The Republicans lose out, whether it's by one vote or a 100,000. The majority rules.

Now, the Republicans are allowed to have some say so in approving the governor's appointments, because the minority must be respected. Thus, if the minority belief systems do have players on the ISU squad, and would like their own chaplain, no one is standing in their way. I don't believe what they believe is true, but I certainly wouldn't stand in their way of having their own chaplain. They're free to raise the funds and go get one, just like Gene Chizik did. The free market decides, even in religious expression.

6. Am I making the matter worse for Coach Chizik by addressing it on these boards and on my radio show?

That could very well be the case, but no one has contacted me to tell me to lay off. I didn't make this a controversy, Dr. Avalos did. In fact, I was one of the last people in the opinion business in this state to say something about this matter. I only entered the fray when Dr. Avalos and the likeminded members on ISU's faculty circulated their petition. At that point it went from a disagreement about the nature of Jesus to a question of freedom.

I could care less what Hector Avalos believes and thinks about what I believe. However, the idea that a publicly funded expositor of atheism has the right to tell someone what he or she can do with private money they raise is un-American. Private property, the right to free speech, and the right to worship as we see fit. Those are the hallmarks of the American system. They are ideals worthy of being defended, which is why I have spoken out as of late.

I also believe that bullying of any kind should be confronted. I don't believe me speaking up has made it worse for Coach Chizik. Last I checked, he was short of allies until I did.

Also, please understand why I spoke up. I'm not trying to persuade the haters, nor do I hope to convert Dr. Avalos. Neither one of those are my concern, nor my responsibility. The point of my speaking up is to reach that 78%, who are silent far too often when these sorts of issues arise, which is one of the primary reasons our culture is in the sad state that it's currently in—recently exhibited by the fact we're having this debate at all.

My goal is mobilizing those who agree with me. If you don't that's cool, but we don't have much to talk about. I'm not sounding the shofar for you.

7. What will eventually happen?

Let me give you a few million reasons why Coach Chizik will get his chaplain. They're the few million dollars more he's worth to ISU than Dr. Avalos and his wannabe oligarchy are. As the head of the football program, Chizik is the face of the greatest promotional tool ISU has.

President Gregory Geffroy has given Jamie Pollard just about as much power as any athletics director in the country, and free reign to reshape the ISU athletic department. In turn, Pollard has entrusted a good portion of his ambitious vision for ISU sports into the Chizik program. Football is the straw that stirs the drink, and if Chizik isn't successful there's no way that Pollard will realize his vision anytime soon.

There's a lot riding on Chizik being successful. That's why he was given the resources to make his new coaching staff one of the highest paid in the Big 12. That's also why he'll get his chaplain.

It may come with some restrictions, but he'll get his way in the end. ISU will have a team chaplain for the football team by 2008. There is simply no way Dr. Geoffroy, a very astute politician, is going to publicly undermine Pollard by siding with Avalos and the Des Moines Register editorial board on this. Siding with Pollard and Chizik only angers Rekha Basu. Siding with Avalos angers a good portion of those 30,000+ season-ticket holders, not to mention a lot of alumni, fans, voters, students, etc. Geoffroy isn't stupid, that's why he referred this to the Athletics Council. Do you really think the Athletics Council is going to side against the very sport that funds almost all the others at ISU?

If you're Geoffroy, that was a smart way of insulating yourself from the Avalos wannabe oligarchy. Now you can say you were only following the recommendation of the Athletics Council when you go ahead and side with Pollard/Chizik. This is all politics now, and in politics you follow the advice of the great prophet Sam Kinison—you move where the food is.

So in conclusion, I would like to offer Dr. Avalos a trade. I'm a softy, you know, who's always looking to compromise. So let's try this one. Under the guise of separation of church and state, we'll go ahead and forego a chaplain for the football team, in exchange for you foregoing the religious studies department at ISU. Chances are what Dr. Avalos has been preaching there is far more dangerous in the long run than anything a future chaplain would have to say anyway. You want to leave religion to the church, Dr. Avalos? I couldn't agree more. Let's start with you.

(Steve Deace founded Cyclone Nation in 2002. He can be heard each weekday from 4-7 p.m. central time on 1040-WHO and at

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