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Utah coaches react to letter sent to university asking to put stop to religious classes taught to football players

Posted at 3:52 PM, Oct 20, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- A national nonprofit organization sent a letter to the University of Utah president Monday asking that he put a stop to religious classes being conducted for Utah football players.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is concerned about a voluntary class about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered to players by assistant football coach Morgan Scalley and graduate assistant coach Sione Pouh'a.

The Washington D.C. based group writes that if the classes don't stop they are willing to go to court.

Read the full letter here: Religious classes taught to Utah football players

On Tuesday afternoon, Utah Head Football Coach Kyle Whittingham was asked if any of his assistant football coaches were involved in teaching the LDS lessons. His reply was no.

Whittingham clarified that Terry Baker from the University Institute of Religion teaches the voluntary lessons.

When asked for further comment, Whittingham responded, “Call my lawyer.  That’s my reaction.”

University officials say its lawyers are reviewing the complaint and will respond within 30 days as requested by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

An attorney for the group stressed their concern.

"Football players are going to feel pressured to take part in order to please the coaches and make sure they keep their playing time up,” said Alex Luchenitser, the nonprofit’s Associate Legal Director.

If the University and the group cannot reach an agreement over the lessons, Luchenitser says the group is prepared to go to court.  "Any time we can't resolve informally, it always becomes a candidate for litigation."

The Utes football team sits at No. 3 on the Associated Press national polls. The team is preparing to take on USC, which will air on FOX 13 this weekend.

Utah coaches say the letter is not distracting the team.

"We're concentrating on what we need to concentrate on which is our football team and what we need to accomplish for the University and our program, so those things don't bother our players or our coaches,” said Assistant Coach Dennis Erickson.