Joe Kennedy, the coach of a Washington state high school football team, has been placed on leave after he wouldn’t stop praying at games. The school district says it’s to avoid liability, which is probably true. It’s convenient timing, too, considering that the Satanic Temple has begun demanding to be allowed to deliver their own satanic prayers at the games, a request the school district probably would have had to grant.
Kennedy has been coaching Bremerton High School’s football team since 2008, and has told multiple news outlets that since he was hired, he’s held pregame prayers in the locker room, as well as post-game inspirational chats at the 50-yard line that also tend to involve references to God. The school district recently asked him to stop doing that, saying that praying during public school functions is a no-go. In a letter they wrote to him, they warned that all the praying, while “entirely well-intentioned,” could run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Kennedy continued to pray on the field, attracting the approving gaze and legal representation of the Liberty Counsel, the religious freedom law firm that also represents Kim Davis. They insist he’s not leading anyone in prayer or making specific references to Christian God:
Although Coach Kennedy’s prayers are verbal, he does not pray in the name of a specific religion or deity, and he does not say “amen.” Each post-game prayer lasts approximately 15 to 20 seconds, during which Coach Kennedy is unaware of who may or may not be in the vicinity. Coach Kennedy’s sole intent, as motivated by his sincerely-held religious beliefs, is to say a brief prayer of thanksgiving and then move on. Coach Kennedy has never received a complaint about his post-game personal prayers.
On Thursday, the coach was placed on paid leave, with the Bremerton School District writing in a letter that no, seriously, he’s gonna get us sued. They emphasized that while they don’t think he’s “coercing” students to pray with him, he’s still doing it on school time and property.
Kennedy and the Liberty Counsel have refused any accommodations, the school says, and has made it clear that he doesn’t wish to pray anywhere but on the 50-yard line, directly in the spotlights. From their letter:
The District respects Mr. Kennedy’s own constitutional right to free exercise of religion, and understands that it has a duty to reasonably accommodate that exercise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. To that end, the District has repeatedly offered to accommodate Kennedy’s religious exercise by providing him with a private location to use for prayer that does not interfere with his performance of his duties. Examples are private locations within the school building or athletic facility, or even in the Memorial Stadium press box. The District has also encouraged Kennedy to offer his own suggestions for ways in which his desire to engage in private prayer can be accommodated without subjecting the District to liability for violating the Establishment Clause. To date, Mr. Kennedy has not taken the District up on any of these offers. Instead, his legal representatives have clearly stated in the media that an accommodation that does not allow Kennedy the spotlight of the 50-yard line immediately following games will be unacceptable to him.
The merry trolls at the Satanic Temple have taken notice of the controversy, saying that if Coach Kennedy can pray any which where he pleases, they should be allowed to as well, if a member of the Bremerton school community invites them to do so.
Lilith Starr, the Satanic Temple’s Seattle chapter head in Seattle, pictured above, put out a press release offering to pray with any Satan-inspired students who might want equal representation under the law.
“We welcome any Bremerton School District student or staff member who wishes to take advantage of this open religious forum an opportunity to embrace and practice Satanism,” Starr is quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Starr told Jezebel that a Bremerton High School senior had requested the Satanic Temple’s presence at the school. The Temple contacted Bremerton’s administration to ask if they could deliver an invocation. Strangely, the school didn’t respond. The following day, Kennedy was placed on leave.
Starr and the Satanic Temple tell Jezebel that they’ll call off their plans to visit the school:
In light of this action taken by the Bremerton School District, we withdraw all requests to perform invocations on school property or school events. We will not be performing a Satanic invocation after tomorrow’s football game, though Chapter members will still be attending to meet and in support of the students, teachers and community members who asked us to come represent their beliefs.
They sound a little disappointed, and frankly, we are too. Kennedy’s lawyers say that placing him on leave was a “hostile employment action,” according to CBS, and that they plan to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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Lilith Starr, chapter head of The Satanic Temple of Seattle. The skull is plastic. Photo via AP Images.