End of update
I had heard about this story and, apparently, Superintendent Dorn had to speak out (see end of thread).
Joe Kennedy, the assistant football coach at Bremerton High, has been leading a prayer on the field directly after the games. Sometimes opponents and fans stay as well. He claims he is just saying a prayer by himself.
But clearly, if he is a coach and he's saying the prayer, out loud and on the field directly after a game, it's a problem.
The Bremerton School District had said if he prayed while on duty as a coach he would be violating federal law.
Kennedy, as he has done after most games for seven years, prayed anyway, defying the order. He opened his eyes to find a huge crowd of supporters around him.
According to the Seattle Times, Kennedy, 46, has never asked anyone else to participate in the postgame prayer. And at first, it went largely unnoticed but players began to join him. One of them is a Bremerton captain. He's agnostic.
"It's about unity. We can be mad at each other all we want during a game and get upset, but once the game is over, that all goes away," Ethan Hacker told the Times. "What (Kennedy) does brings us all together no matter how much we despise each other."
The prayer, according to the Seattle Times, is a version of the following sentiment: "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."
I can see how players can see this as a sign of unity and forgiveness (if it was a tough game). But the purpose can be misunderstood. And a player who may not want to do it, may feel he must. And, of course, depending on the prayer, it could show favor to one religion over another.
Apparently the district was fine with the coach speaking to the players but not praying.
For several games, Kennedy abided by the directive. This week, he decided he had to do what he believed was right.
The issue is the First Amendment versus laws saying that public entities cannot support religion actions. The coach seems to think he is making some point saying he is "fighting the good fight." No one wants to stop him from exhibiting good sportsmanship.
But once you weaken that line, then it's gone. You want to see a fight? Have four or five different religions out there at the same time.
Statement from Superintendent Randy Dorn:
Recently there have been reports of a Washington state school district employee leading a prayer at a high school football game. It’s unfortunate when the actions of one employee affect an entire district.
Employees from each of our state’s 295 districts must follow the law whatever the source — whether it comes from school district policy, state statute or the U.S. Constitution. Most school districts in Washington take a similar approach when they have to balance when it’s appropriate for staff and students to exercise religious expression in school against the need to ensure that schools don’t advance religion or favor one religion over another.
It's not always easy to apply the law. Or popular. But for me, rules usually come down to common sense. School staff exercising their right to silently pray in private on their own is fine. But leading a prayer isn’t. School officials are role models; leading a prayer might put a student in an awkward position, even if the prayer is voluntary. For students who don’t share the official’s faith, prayers the official’s public expression of faith can seem exclusionary or even distressing. What’s more, that official could open the district up to a lawsuit.
Each and every district wrestles with these kinds of questions regularly. I commend them on the tough decisions they have to make.