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Boise State Response on Religious Freedom

This article was originally published on Boise State News on December 18, 2020.

Boise State University unequivocally supports and will fiercely defend our students’ right to the free exercise of religion. It’s shameful that parties external to the university are using a photo of student-athlete prayer as an opportunity to attempt to interfere with our student-athletes’ constitutional right to freely practice the religion of their choosing.

Despite misleading reports to the contrary, Boise State did not end its relationship with Pastor Mark Thornton. We seriously evaluated the constitutional considerations related to this matter, our legal team made an appropriate response, and we remain committed to protecting all student-athletes’ individual rights under the Free Exercise Clause, including access to Pastor Thornton.

Pastor Thornton will continue to:
– Join the team on the sidelines.
– Attend away games.
– Hold chapel the evening before each game.
– Join student-led prayers before and after each game.
– Lead weekly bible studies.
– Be available to student-athletes who want to pray with him and seek his counsel.

President Marlene Tromp, who feels very strongly about this matter, has committed to personally pay for Pastor Thornton’s travel to the Mountain West Championship game, so that he can support our student-athletes. We will also ensure that he is able to return to Boise to be a part of services in his home church on Sunday.

We have taken action to protect our students’ access to Pastor Thornton and other spiritual leaders our students may wish to call upon now and in the future. We have set up a fund to support Pastor Thornton’s travel to our games, and, if you feel as we do about this matter, we invite you to contribute to a Free Exercise Fund for students.

“I was present on the field when our Bronco football team and the BYU Cougars knelt to pray together after a very intense game,” said Tromp. “I was so moved by the players’ ability to reach across a divide to one another in a difficult time. We need more love in the world — especially with all the crises we’ve faced this year — and this was a sure sign of it. I will always support Pastor Thornton, who has been a generous friend and spiritual advisor to me as well.”

Pastor Thornton expressed his heartfelt commitment to Boise State. “I’m there for the university and love Boise State. President Tromp has long expressed her gratitude for my support for the team, and I will always be there for them. I feel my influence in their lives helps them grow.”

Boise State has always maintained an excellent relationship with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Ken Lewis, the FCA Idaho State Director, noted: “FCA Idaho applauds and proudly supports Boise State’s statement relating to student athletes’ access to Pastor Thornton in exercise of their rights.”