Schools force pray­ing coach off foot­ball field

Satan wor­ship­pers plan postgame rit­ual

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

A Wash­ing­ton state foot­ball coach who likes to of­fer a postgame prayer on the 50-yard line has been of­fi­cially sent to the lock­ers, and a Satan-wor­ship­ping group has promised to suit up to of­fer its own postgame in­can­ta­tions.

The Bre­mer­ton School Dis­trict placed Joe Kennedy, as­sis­tant foot­ball coach at Bre­mer­ton High School, on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave this week af­ter he re­fused to stop tak­ing a knee for 20 sec­onds on the field af­ter shak­ing hands with the op­pos­ing coaches.

Mr. Kennedy, a former Marine who served in Iraq, said he has prayed af­ter games since 2008 af­ter he saw “Fac­ing the Gi­ants,” a movie about a Chris­tian foot­ball coach who used faith to con­quer fear.

Play­ers, fans and other coaches have some­times joined Mr. Kennedy on the field — es­pe­cially on Oct. 16, when he de­fied the school dis­trict and knelt down af­ter a los­ing game.

“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,” Mr. Kennedy prayed, ac­cord­ing to The Seat­tle Times.

Reli­gious free­dom groups and the Con­gres­sional Prayer Cau­cus have of­fered sup­port for Mr. Kennedy, and the Lib­erty In­sti­tute is plan­ning to take le­gal ac­tion on his be­half.

The school dis­trict, how­ever, said it had to put Mr. Kennedy on leave be­cause of “the gen­uine risk that the Dis­trict will be li­able for vi­o­lat­ing the fed­eral and state con­sti­tu­tional rights of stu­dents or oth­ers.”

Mean­while, mem­bers of the Sa­tanic Tem­ple of Seat­tle were ex­pected to ap­pear at Thurs­day night’s foot­ball game in an at­tempt to hold their own postgame cer­e­mony with in­cense, a gong and a procla­ma­tion.

The Satanists were in­vited to protest Mr. Kennedy’s prayers by Abe Bartlett, pres­i­dent of the se­nior class at Bre­mer­ton High School, and a few other stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The school dis­trict needs to “either go black or white,” Abe told AP. It should either have a pol­icy that stops any pub­lic reli­gious prac­tices or per­mits peo­ple to prac­tice their re­li­gion pub­licly, “what­ever their be­liefs,” he said.

At­tor­ney Hi­ram Sasser said Thurs­day that the Lib­erty In­sti­tute is pre­par­ing a dis­crim­i­na­tion case with the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion on be­half of Mr. Kennedy. Once the case has been sub­mit­ted, a fed­eral law­suit can be filed against the school dis­trict, he said.

Sev­eral clashes over re­li­gion in pub­lic schools have hap­pened in re­cent weeks thanks to civil rights and athe­ist groups that mon­i­tor such is­sues. For in­stance:

A Louisiana high school prin­ci­pal, re­spond­ing to a stu­dent sug­ges­tion of hav­ing “prayer boxes” in school, used the phrase “May God Bless You All” on a mes­sage posted on a school web­site.

This caught the eye of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union Foundation of Louisiana, which asked the Bossier Par­ish School Board and Ja­son Rowland, the prin­ci­pal, to strip all ref­er­ences to prayer from the school web­site and cease reli­gious in­doc­tri­na­tion. The school board de­cided this month that no cor­rec­tive ac­tion was needed.

A Ken­tucky high school stu­dent was told he could not post cer­tain fliers about a pro-life club meet­ing, in­clud­ing one with a pic­ture of Blessed Mother Teresa and her quote, “It is a poverty to de­cide that a child must die so you can live as you wish.”

Matthew Turner, prin­ci­pal of Larry A. Ryle High School in Union, Ken­tucky, said Pa­trick Ed­wards’ fliers were “too con­tro­ver­sial” and dis­crim­i­na­tory. Ad­vo­cates with Stu­dents for Life of Amer­ica have protested the cen­sor­ing of the fliers, and Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom has filed a de­mand let­ter with the school on be­half of Pa­trick and his pro-life club.

In Elkhart, In­di­ana, a school dis­trict has been taken to fed­eral court to stop it from host­ing a “Christ­mas Spec­tac­u­lar” per­for­mance that fea­tures a live Na­tiv­ity scene.

The law­suit, filed by an anony­mous fa­ther and son and the Free­dom From Re­li­gion Foundation with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of In­di­ana, says it is il­le­gal and co­er­cive for Con­cord Com­mu­nity Schools to or­ga­nize, re­hearse or present “the story of the birth of Je­sus” dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. The school, which has hosted its pro­gram for decades, is­sued a state­ment this month say­ing it will de­fend it­self against the law­suit but did not have fur­ther com­ment.

In Wash­ing­ton, Bre­mer­ton School Dis­trict Su­per­in­ten­dent Aaron Leavell said in a state­ment that the school is “do­ing what ev­ery state-funded agency and school dis­trict must do: abide by the laws that gov­ern us.” This in­cludes not per­mit­ting staff to use “reli­gious ex­pres­sion, in­clud­ing prayer, in talks with stu­dents while on duty for the Dis­trict,” he said.

An at­tor­ney for the school told The Seat­tle Times that Mr. Kennedy was im­prop­erly invit­ing other coaches to join him and was not off duty once the game ended.

School of­fi­cials also have promised that the foot­ball field “is not a pub­lic fo­rum when it is in use for a Dis­trict-spon­sored ath­letic event” and “no group will be ap­proved to use it for their own pur­poses while th­ese events are oc­cur­ring.”

In a Tues­day let­ter to Bre­mer­ton school of­fi­cials, the Con­gres­sional Prayer Cau­cus, led by Sen. James Lank­ford, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, and Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, said the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion does not re­quire that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials “proac­tively scrub all ref­er­ences of re­li­gion from the pub­lic square.”

“Mem­bers of Congress have a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion of open­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sions with prayer — some Mem­bers have even of­fered the open­ing prayer them­selves — and Coach Kennedy should have the same free­dom to pray af­ter his team’s games,” Mr. Forbes said in a state­ment.

Lilith Starr, Seat­tle chap­ter head of the Sa­tanic Tem­ple, said in a let­ter to school of­fi­cials that the tem­ple would with­draw its re­quest to per­form “the Sa­tanic in­vo­ca­tion” at Thurs­day’s game “if you pre­vent coach Kennedy from pray­ing or dis­ci­pline or dis­charge him ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Oth­er­wise, the Sa­tanic Tem­ple wants to use that “same open fo­rum” of the high school foot­ball field to of­fer its in­vo­ca­tion and in­vite stu­dents and staff mem­bers “to em­brace and prac­tice Satanism,” it said.

SEAT­TLE TIMES VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bre­mer­ton [Wash­ing­ton] High School as­sis­tant foot­ball coach Joe Kennedy (cen­ter), who prays with his team de­spite or­ders to stop, has been placed on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave. Of­fi­cials said the ac­tion was ne­ces­si­tated be­cause of his re­fusal to com­ply with di­rec­tives that he re­frain from en­gag­ing in overt, pub­lic reli­gious dis­plays on the foot­ball field.

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