For the last seven years, Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy has been quietly walking to the 50 yard line after every game. He then kneels and offers a brief 15-20 second prayer of thanksgiving for his players and the game. That’s it.
Soon after he started, players noticed him and asked him what he was doing. When they found out, they asked permission to join him. Since America is a free country, he told them of course they could. Eventually even players from opposing teams would come to midfield to join him in a totally voluntary and brief time of prayer.
As Liberty Institute points out, “Coach Kennedy engages in private religious expression during non-instructional hours...He neither requests, encourages, nor discourages students from participating in his personal prayers, or coming to where he prays. His prayers neither proselytize nor denigrate the beliefs of others.”
No one in seven years uttered a single word of complaint. Then the Freedom From Religion Foundation (note: the Constitution guarantees freedom “of” religion, not freedom “from” religion) got wind of the expression of religious sentiment and spent 49 cents to send a threatening letter to the school district, warning them of impending legal mayhem if they did not land like a falling safe on this coach for having the effrontery to pray just like George Washington and all the Founders did.
Frightened and weak and constitutionally uneducated, the school buckled and ordered Coach Kennedy to cease and desist. After getting legal counsel from Liberty Institute, he politely refused their unconstitutional, illegal, immoral and unethical demands and resumed his post game prayers last Friday night. He asked his own team to stay on the sidelines, but when he went to midfield, he found himself surrounded by players from the opposing team who cheered loudly and long when the prayer was over.
The Founders’ Constitution ties the hands of the federal government and forbids it to interfere in any way whatsoever with the free expression of the Christian religion. The First Amendment prohibits it from making a “law” that “prohibits the free exercise” of religious expression in any way. So if we were still using the Constitution as crafted by the Founders, no federal judge anywhere should have anything to say about what Coach Kennedy does when he wants to pray.
So what about the constitution of the state of Washington? If anything, it provides even stronger religious liberty protections than the federal constitution. Here is how the relevant portion reads (emphasis mine):
Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.
The school is clearly transgressing the state constitution by molesting and disturbing Coach Kennedy on account of his religion. And since he does not go to the 50 yard line to engage in “acts of licentiousness” and since his actions represent absolutely no threat whatsoever to the “peace and safety” of the state of Washington, the school is utterly and completely wrong here.
Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” is designed to prevent the very thing the school is doing. Contrary to popular misinterpretation, Jefferson’s wall of separation is a wall designed to protect the church from the intrusion of the state, not to insulate the state from the influence of the church. It is a wall designed to protect religious liberty, not snuff it out. Jefferson’s wall of separation is a wall of protection built around Coach Kennedy as he kneels at midfield.
It’s time for Bremerton High School to reinforce that wall instead of trying to bring it down on Coach Kennedy’s head. Today would be a great day to start.