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COLUMBUS -- Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer won't offer Bible study or chapel services to his players, according to a letter the university's president sent this week to a group that works to support the separation of church and state.
Meyer told the Dispatch in January that he would hold the study groups and services, but President E. Gordon Gee is telling the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., that was wrong.
"I certainly agree that publicly funded institutions cannot support, promote, or endorse religion. I want to be clear that coach Meyer does not conduct Bible studies or chapel services for the players," Gee wrote in the letter dated Tuesday.
"My understanding is that an article in the Columbus Dispatch inaccurately reported that the 'Buckeyes coach will offer optional Bible studies and chapel services for the players.' (N)either coach Meyer, nor anyone on his staff, conducts such services."
The January story in the Dispatch was followed by five published letters to the editor, some in support of and others opposing Meyer's proposed practices.
The university did not, at that time, dispute the report, which said: "Meyer said the optional services he'll offer players at Ohio State will be nondenominational Christian. But he said he would tell the young men that if they want to worship a different way, he'll certainly cater to that as well.' "
OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said yesterday in an email: "I don't know what coach Meyer said, but the way it's quoted was not accurate."
Lynch said that he was unable to answer additional questions, and that neither Gee, nor Meyer was available to comment.
Freedom From Religion Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Gee last Friday to object to Meyer's holding the Bible study and chapel services. She said that they "demonstrate the university's apparent endorsement of religion over nonreligion" and that the school shouldn't lend its "power and prestige" to religion.
"Players trying to please their coach or curry favor surely feel huge pressure to attend these devotional events. Meyer's invitation to players to participate in a Bible study is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our public university system," she wrote.
Gaylor told the Dispatch that her organization had heard complaints about Meyer's plans.
Gee notes in his letter that Athletes in Action, a registered student organization, does meet on campus and offers Bible studies and counseling to all students. He said coaches do not "invite" players to participate.
Meyer said in January that his faith had been strengthened by contact with Tim Tebow, whom he coached at the University of Florida. The New York Jets quarterback has long been vocal about his Christian faith and has received both support and criticism, most recently gaining attention this week for a shirtless pose in GQ magazine reminiscent of Jesus on the cross.