High School Assistant Coach Joe Kennedy has been at the center of a controversy involving his ritual of prayers after football games. Last month, the Bremerton School District, concerned about possible liability, set guidelines which Kennedy agreed to. Now, the coach has said he has “changed his mind” after The Liberty Institute got involved.
Coach Kennedy has a ritual of leading a prayer with players — and anyone else who wants to join in — after games. Kennedy says that this is for himself only, and he can’t help if others want to join him. He has been doing this since 2008; he walks to the 50-yard line, kneels and offers a prayer, a variation of this:
Lord, I thank you for these kids and the blessing you’ve given me with them. We believe in the game, we believe in competition and we can come into it as rivals and leave as brothers.
That sounds pretty innocuous. But Kennedy does this while he is still on duty as an employee of the school district. Therein lies the problem. When Coach Kennedy prays when he’s still on the clock, he is promoting a religion. With the implication that the district supports it.
Now The Liberty Institute has targeted Kennedy’s case for intervention.
Their lawyers advised — wrongly — that his “religious liberty” is being infringed upon. There’s that phrase again. Any time a Christian is challenged for violating the separation of church and state, they cry “religious liberty” and go into martyr mode. The Liberty Institute sent a letter to the Bremerton School District this week, demanding they stop “harassing” Coach Kennedy:
No reasonable observer could conclude that a football coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the field and then walks to mid-field to say a short, private, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state. Quite the opposite, Coach Kennedy is engaged in private religious expression upon which the state may not infringe. In fact, any attempt by Bremerton School District to ban or prohibit Coach Kennedy—or any private citizen—from praying violates the First Amendment.
Except that he is not engaged in a private act. Demanding that he refrain from praying while acting as a representative of the state, in no way infringes upon Kennedy’s First Amendment rights. But it does threaten his job. I hope his perspective right-wing lawyers are prepared to find him another.
The Liberty Institute displays their lack of understanding of the law in their demands. Coach Kennedy’s duties are not over when the game is. He is technically on the clock until the students leave the district property. In a reply to TLI’s letter, the Bremerton School District drew on legal precedents set by similar cases. The point being:
… that the District does not purport to control Mr. Kennedy’s private conduct, including exercise of his religious rights, when he is not on duty for the District. Moreover, the District’s guidance to Mr. Kennedy does not prohibit all religious exercise even while he is on duty as a District-paid coach. He is free to engage in religious activity, including prayer, even while on duty, so long as doing so does not interfere with performance of his job duties, and does not constitute District endorsement of religion.
Coach Kennedy went back on the district’s rules, which included that he wait until everyone is gone and the lights are off before he kneels at the 50-yard line. He had previously agreed to these guidelines. But on Friday night, he broke them, kneeling to pray silently (also a violation) after the game. He was joined by members of both his team and their rivals.
Other students and community members — including a state representative — prayed with Coach Kennedy in support of “religious liberty.”
Prayer led by a district employee, on district property, during a district event is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. Kennedy, who confesses that he does not “know the Constitution,” is being used by The Liberty Institute. He, like Kim Davis, will be held up as a victim, a martyr to the cause of “religious liberty.” A cause that is nothing more than a way to hold one religion over all others. Indeed, to hold it over other lifestyles and cultures, to make Christianity the controlling factor in American life and law.
We will not allow that. Sorry, Liberty Institute, but your client is wrong. If you take this to court, you will lose. Coach Kennedy can pray all he wants… after the lights, players and cheering crowds are gone. Until then, he is a public employee and, as such, is subject to the law. Deal with it.
Here’s a report via the Kitsap Sun:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRqEs8vz2ZM]
Featured image via screen capture