Friday, October 30, 2015

Washington Football Coach Is Latest Focus In Battle Over Prayer At School Activities

An AP report yesterday focused on Bremerton, Washington, High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy who is quickly becoming the latest focus in the ongoing battle over prayer at public school events.  Kennedy has been praying mid-field at the end of the game since 2008, but his actions have not become a cause for controversy until last month. Needless to say, Kennedy and school officials have starkly differing narratives.

Kennedy's lawyers, the Liberty Institute, say that Kennedy is merely engaging in a personal faith practice, in which he has often been voluntarily joined by a majority of his team, other coaches and the opposing team. The school district, however, says that coaches still have duties after the game is over, and permitting Kennedy to engage in a public religious display in the midst of his duties would amount to district endorsement of religion. He has now been placed on paid administrative leave. The school district says it has offered to accommodate Kennedy by providing him a private location for him to use to pray in a way that does not interfere with his duties.  Kennedy's lawyer responds: "When it comes to religious freedom in the country, that's never been the law, that you can have religious expression, but you have to hide it somewhere." (Bremerton Patriot.)  Apparently Kennedy plans to sue claiming a denial of religious accommodation.

Meanwhile, others are getting into the act.  In October, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Bremerton superintendent supporting the school district's position. (Press release.) As reported by the Christian Post, 47 members of Congress this week signed a letter (full text) supporting Kennedy. And (as reported by RT) this week the Seattle Chapter of the Satanic Temple, saying that the school has essentially turned the post-game field into a public forum for religion, wrote to school officials (full text of letter) saying: "In light of football coach Joe Kennedy’s public prayer on the Bremerton High football field at the October 18 game, The Satanic Temple of Seattle requests permission to also perform a public Satanic invocation on the football field after the next football game, at the behest of a Bremerton High student."