Even though I’m not a particularly religious person, I feel sorry for the high school football coach who was fired for praying on the 50-yard line.
Up in the evergreen Pacific Northwest, where I grew up, Bremerton, Washington, assistant football coach Joe Kennedy was fired for praying on the field after his team’s games.
“I promised God that I would take a knee by myself in quiet prayer at the 50-yard line after every game, win or lose,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last Monday. His very personal decision was a bit much for the Bremerton School District, which fired him for allowing students to participate in his postgame prayers. Yes, really.
You might think this is a frivolous church-state issue, but it’s not because the U.S. Supreme Court heard Kennedy’s appeal of his firing last Monday. The Journal reported that Kennedy’s appeal involves “the religious rights of a high school football coach clashing with the school district’s obligation to avoid endorsement of any particular creed.” Fair enough because although the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, it prohibits government – including school districts – from establishing an official religion. That’s what the Supremes will decide.
Kennedy, a Marine Corps veteran, turned to religion after seeing the movie, “Facing the Giants,” which portrays a football coach with a losing record who “inspires his players to praise God regardless of the game’s results, rather than focusing solely on winning.” According to the Journal, “Some (Bremerton) players began to join Kennedy’s postgame devotionals on the field.” As a lifelong bad sport, I grudgingly admire the Bremerton coach for promoting good sportsmanship.
The school district “got the lawyers involved,” Kennedy wrote, “and they kept shifting the goal posts every time I complied. Eventually, they said I had to refrain from any ‘demonstrative religious activity’ visible to students or the public.” Nevertheless, they helpfully suggested that he could “walk across the field up the stairs into the main school building, down the hall and into the janitor’s office” if he wanted to pray after football games. Thanks a lot!
Two days after the football season ended the Bremerton School District fired Kennedy for violating its rules against public prayers while acknowledging that players hadn’t been “directly coerced” to pray with him after their games. He sued, but the liberal Ninth Circus (excuse me, Circuit) Court of Appeals ruled against him.
That’s when Kennedy appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Unless the court rules in my favor, teachers could be fired for praying over their lunch in the cafeteria if students can see them,” Kennedy wrote. “I just want to be back on the field with my guys, building a team to accomplish a mission. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.”
He sounds exactly like an American patriot who served his country in the Marine Corps. After all, Marines have been known to pray before going into battle. Semper Fi, Coach.
During my Foreign Service career. my late wife Consuelo and I loved our Embassy Marines, who were our first line of defense in volatile countries like Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. In fact, I confess that we once presided over a clandestine Marine Corps anniversary ceremony after the ambassador cancelled the cherished Marine Ball because a couple of Embassy leathernecks misbehaved late one night in Lima, Peru. The ambassador punished all of our Embassy Marines for the transgressions of a few. My wife and I thought that was unfair. As I was saying, Semper Fi, and God bless the Marines.
I hope Kennedy wins his case in the Supreme Court.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.