Members of Congress Are Defending the Praying Football Coach, but Here’s a Terrific Response October 30, 2015

Members of Congress Are Defending the Praying Football Coach, but Here’s a Terrific Response

This week, dozens of politicians finally got around to doing something! Unfortunately, it involved right-wing Republicans making another symbolic gesture.

Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus sent a letter to administrators in the Bremerton School District in support of I-Have-To-Pray-on-the-Football-Field Coach Joe Kennedy:

… Congressman Forbes and Senator Lankford led 47 Members of Congress in sending a letter to the District, arguing that the District’s high school football coach’s non-coercive tradition of personally praying after the conclusion of games is not a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The Member letter contends that Coach Kennedy’s prayers do not pose an Establishment Clause concern because the prayers occur after the conclusion of the game and are optional: “[T]he mere act of a single individual kneeling alone after the conclusion of a game to quietly pray coerces no one, even when that individual is a school employee.That others may choose to join him of their own free will is irrelevant, and an exercise of their own constitutional freedoms.”

Of course, it’s irrelevant that it’s immediately after the game and optional. Kennedy, while acting as a coach, is praying on the football field. He’s making a statement on behalf of the District. That’s why it’s wrong.

Now, writer Linda K. Wertheimer has a great piece in the Washington Post explaining why no one should be defending Kennedy — especially members of Congress:

You are promoting the idea that we should live in an America where public school officials can publicly pray in front of students. You’re promoting an America where it’s okay to ignore the protections set up not just for religious minorities but for the growing number of “nones,” the roughly 20 percent of Americans who say they are unaffiliated.

I understand the power of prayer. As a Jew, I have found solace in prayer privately or in community in my house of worship. There is no place, though, for public prayer led by coaches, school officials or cheerleading squads. And a public school’s football field is certainly not the place for a mass baptism for a coach and his players, a ritual a Georgia church performed recently. Those displays show a “majority rules” kind of attitude rather than a respect for all Americans and a respect for the First Amendment’s call for government not to establish religion.

I don’t get to say this very often, but the District did the right thing by removing Kennedy from the field. The coach is on paid leave, but the District decided it wasn’t going to allow him to turn a football game into a platform to spread his faith.

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