A former Delaware State University volleyball player is suing the school, her former coach and the former athletic director alleging that her constitutional rights were violated and that she lost her scholarship because she would not attend church or bible study as directed by the coach.
Natalia Mendieta alleges that beginning in the fall of 2013, when LaKisya Killingsworth took over as head coach for the volleyball program, she required players to attend church with her every Sunday and told players they were "on a one-year trial period with her." According to Mendiota, “church” was put on the team’s schedule along with practices, matches and tournaments.
Mendieta claims that in addition to having players attend church services, Killingsworth had the team pray before each match, handed out Bibles to the players and “strongly encouraged” team members to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and go to Bible studies held by the group.
At first, Mendieta says she attended church with the team because she was afraid that if she didn’t, she would receive less playing time and could potentially lose her scholarship. However, after several months, Mendieta sent Killingsworth a letter raising her concerns about the forced church attendance, and following the letter, Mendieta stopped attending the services.
According to the lawsuit, Killingsworth told Mendieta that she didn’t care whether Mendieta attended church, but shortly thereafter started to avoid speaking with Mendieta and became hostile.
The lawsuit also alleges that in the spring of 2014, another player’s parents complained about Killingsworth’s emphasis on religion and the player eventually quit the team.
In the fall of 2014, Killingsworth began to look for reasons to kick Mendieta off the team. This past fall, Mendieta and other players missed curfew while at an away game. Killingsworth allegedly used the incident as an excuse to revoke Mendieta's scholarship, though none of the other tarry players' scholarships were affected.
The suit also alleges that the school’s former athletic director Candy Young knew about Killingsworth’s requirements but didn’t put a stop to them. The lawsuit goes on to say that Killingsworth’s actions were an “inappropriate and unconstitutional endorsement of religion by a secular state entity.”
Mendieta’s attorney said that Mendieta wants to return to the school in the fall, but is not sure if she will be able to afford it without the scholarship.