While he typically goes on the field to pray alone, students and players often voluntarily join him — and that is what has sparked controversy and concerns over the separation of church and state.
A subsequent letter from the school district informed Coach Kennedy that while they supported his motivational and inspirational talks with his players, he must limit them to themes such as unity, teamwork, responsibility, safety, endeavor “and the like”. AND, his talks could not include religious expression, including prayer. His words of encouragement had to remain secular at all times, in order not to alienate any player.
But the school district didn’t count on the unshakable faith of Coach Kennedy. “I never asked anyone [to pray]. They just all showed up one day and the next thing I know, the other team was showing up with us,” Kennedy said. ”I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, and it’s been about protecting the freedom of other people. It’s about the freedom, and people can believe whatever they want. I’m just exercising my right.”
But apparently exercising that right could conflict with his job description, and there were veiled threats that an investigation was being conducted and it would be prudent for him to discontinue such religious sentiment.
Kennedy didn’t back down. “I love my players. It’s an honor to work with them and teach them about good sportsmanship and teamwork,” the coach said in a statement. “I hope the school district will allow me to continue working with these kids – and thanking God for them.” And he joined forces with the Liberty Institute, the conservative law firm firing off a letter to officials at Bremerton High School that calls it unconstitutional for the district to order Kennedy to stop praying after games.
As you might suspect, there was a showdown looming. Regardless of the imposed ban on prayer, Coach Kennedy wanted to pray after the Homecoming Game on October 16th, and he made it clear that he would exercise his constitutional right to pray privately, regardless of the school’s response. He reasoned that since player attendance isn’t mandatory during his post-game prayers, they are protected free speech. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done and I will do my prayer,” he said.
|Kennedy is surrounded by the opposing team as he prays
Although the Bremerton school district has not made an official statement about his actions, and the Coach awaits a possible lawsuit and termination of his contract, his deed has attracted a great deal of attention from not only ordinary Americans, but the controversial ladies of The View. Actress Candace Buré, an avowed Christian, defended Kennedy’s right to pray publicly. She pointed out that his post-game prayer session was not mandatory and is therefore protected free speech under the First Amendment. “The separation of church and state does not mean that we cannot pray publicly,” she said. “It actually guarantees our free exercise of religion so that if it is voluntary, we are allowed to pray wherever we would like to.”
But her co-host of the show, actress Raven-Symone, immediately confronted Buré, asking, “So why did they take prayer out of the beginning of school, and now it’s just silence?” And here is where we Christians need to know our history… “I don’t know, I wish they wouldn’t have,” Buré shot back.
In the future, the Faithful need to have an answer for that question. And here it is: The conflict started when Steven Engel, a Jewish New Yorker, came together with other parents in 1958 to sue New York State over state-endorsed prayer that was being recited in schools. The Supreme Court inevitably sided with Engel and the decision was issued on June 25, 1962 — a day that lives in infamy in the minds of many religious individuals and free-speech advocates.
What was the offensive language that altered the condition of our education system forever? The prayer, which read, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country,” was relatively benign in nature. Still, the parents were adamant that it shouldn’t be uttered in the public sphere. The plaintiffs claimed that the prayer violated their religious beliefs and practices. Requiring that children utter it, they argued, violated their First Amendment rights, as the government, in their view, was establishing and promoting religion.
The lone dissent on the Supreme Court came from Potter Stewart, who argued that the majority had “misapplied a great constitutional principle” and could not understand “how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.”
How sad that this argument has disappeared from our national dialogue! And this, of course, was only the beginning. It was in 1963 — one year later — when Madelyn Murray O’Hair, an atheist activist, was successful in getting the Supreme Court to ban Bible reading and overturn a state law banning the teaching of evolution. And it’s been downhill ever since.
Now, over 50 years later, the battle is still being waged. While many charge that the public school system has taken the ruling and subsequent Supreme Court decisions too far, others maintain that restrictions haven’t gone far enough. But at least there are people like Joe Kennedy who are starting to fight back; people who understand what has been taken away from us and our children. God Bless him and those who were willing to kneel on the 50-yard line with him!
1 Timothy 2:8 "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger and disputing or quarreling or doubt [in their mind]."