The legal dispute between Marilou Braswell, the former cheerleading coach of the University of Georgia, and her former employer took a predictable turn last month when Braswell filed an injunction that seeks her reinstatement.
Braswell sued the university in August, alleging four causes of action, including deprivation of religious freedom, freedom of speech, equal protection of the laws and due process of law. She was fired after a member of the cheerleading team complained that Braswell’s Christian beliefs were being foisted upon her.
One of the arguments made in the motion is that the university practices gender discrimination by allowing Head Football Coach Mark Richt to practice religious activities that are similar to the actions that led to Braswell’s dismissal.
While the issue at the Athens, Ga. School has come to a head, it is hardly new.
In December 2001, the University’s Executive Director of Legal Affairs Steve Shewmaker suggested in a response to a complaint filed by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State that college students “have flexibility to make decisions about voluntary participation in opportunities offered by teachers and or coaches.”
In 2003, Richt wrote a letter that responded to a complaint from former Athletic Director Vince Dooley. He wrote: “I have not attempted to create any kind of atmosphere other than one of hard work on the field, hard work in the classroom and for our players to do the right thing and represent this university in a first-class manner.”
For Braswell’s part, she is walking a fine line with regard to criticizing a football coach, who remains extremely popular in that state.
From the web site www.helpmarilou.com, comes this passage:
“It is also regrettable that some of the press has tried their best to make this a Marilou Braswell versus Mark Richt issue. It is NOT! It is about how the University handled complaints against Mark Richt and other male faculty members, and how differently they handled almost identical complaints against Marilou. The University maintains that the difference is that Marilou’s complaint came from a student. What difference does it make who complains? The only issue should be whether or not the complaint has any merit. Why were these other UGA employees afforded the protection of their constitutional rights, granted due process, and eventually supported in their positions by the University while Marilou was thrown under the bus.”