Joe Kennedy, Satanists, and the Misuse of the Establishment Clause

The story about Bremerton Washington assistant football coach Joe Kennedy and his postgame prayers has been well publicized.  We have all seen it somewhere.  Here’s a guy who doesn’t make a big deal about praying. He goes out to the field after the game, prays a very inclusive and “love your fellow man” kind of prayer, and then goes home.

According to komonews.com, Kennedy has been praying before and after the games since 2008, and it only recently became a problem with the school district.  Here’s the report from komonews.com:

Kennedy has vocally prayed before and after games, sometimes joined by students, since 2008. But the practice recently came to the district’s attention, and it asked him to stop.

He initially agreed, but then, with support from the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a religious-freedom organization, he resumed the postgame prayers, silently taking a knee for 15 to 20 seconds at midfield after shaking hands with the opposing coaches. His lawyers insist he is not leading students in prayer, just praying himself.

The debate at the school across Puget Sound west of Seattle has focused attention on the role of religion in public schools. Dozens of lawmakers in the Congressional Prayer Caucus sent a letter this week to the superintendent expressing support for the coach.

“While the district appreciates Kennedy’s many positive contributions to the BHS football program, and therefore regrets the necessity of this action, Kennedy’s conduct poses a genuine risk that the District will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others,” the statement said.

The district said Kennedy is still employed and will be paid through the remainder of his contract term unless his status changes. He won’t be allowed to participate in any activities related to the football program, although the district said he can attend games as a member of the public.

Kennedy’s lawyer, Hiram Sasser, called the leave a hostile employment action.

“It’s surprising and shocking,” Sasser said.

So what now?  One development is that, in an effort to get the school to clarify its policy on religious practice, some students in the school invited the local Satanist group to attend this week’s game.  Here’s what Senior Class President Abe Bartlett said about the invitation to the Satanic Temple of Seattle:

“The main reason I did it is to portray to the school district that I think we should either have a policy that we’re not going to have any religious affiliation or public religious practices, or they should say people are going to be allowed to practice their religion publicly whatever their beliefs,” said Bartlett, 17.

“They need to either go black or white,” he said. “I don’t think this controversial middle ground is what our school needs.”

The First Amendment, often referred to as “the establishment clause,” or the law of “separation of Church and State,” does not prohibit the practice of religion in public or government settings.  It prohibits government from establishing or setting up a religion, and it prohibits the government from preferring one religion over another.  So in our multi-faith culture, there should be room for all religions to express themselves publicly, even the Satanists.  Also, with all the “tolerance” hype of our country today, we should all be able to present our faith without fear of being silenced.

However, it seems that there is something about Christianity that is just a little scary to the world because, for some reason, people are always getting upset with Christians for being vocal or visual in the public arena. Then, the culture appears to be schizophrenic about the whole freedom of religion when if allows oaths of office to be taken with hands on the Bibles at the same time that it suspends the job of a good man–an assistant coach who is liked by students and teachers.

The establishment clause is a part of our Constitution to protect religious freedoms, not to shut them down.  With that in mind, the Satanist group has a right to publicly practice their religion.  They will make their appearance at the game, and it will be interesting to see how the school board and others in the community react to their presentation.  If they don’t blink an eye, it is time for them to reconsider their suspension of Coach Kennedy because all religious groups should enjoy the same freedoms.