Friday, October 23, 2015

No Praying at School Events

Update: on another football story, Ballard and Roosevelt face off tonight for the City Football Championship.  Best of luck to both teams (but I have to say it - go Roughriders!)

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.

From CNN:
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.

17 comments:

agnostic parent said...

Honestly we have much bigger issues to deal with. What about legally providing a good education to all kids!

Anonymous said...

Common sense and the religious faithful. I suspect there are folks who are none too happy with this part of the Constitution. People are keen to exercise their rights. Not so keen about the responsibility in exercising those rights so that they do not infringe on the rights of others.

Hate to be the one kid who just doesn't want to do this for whatever reason.

parent



agnostic parent said...

Anonymous - from what I have read, he doesn't say join me in a prayer. He doesn't advocate the kids to pray. He has not told a kid that has a different religion that that student could not pray in their own way.

Anyway - I have no say in this. I am not religious and I do not have a student involved in this football program.

Too bad other issues such as special education gaps don't get as much news coverage.

Anonymous said...

MW wrote:
"The issue is the First Amendment versus laws saying that public entities cannot support religion actions."

I guess for me a larger and more important question becomes:
Can public entities allow religion actions?

or must public entities prohibit religion actions?

I am fine with schools having an area where Muslim students can pray as required by their religion at certain times of day.

Randy Dorn's urging of sanity is a great idea.

-- Dan Dempsey

Melissa Westbrook said...

I, too, have no problem with students making their own private choice. Nor the coach. But he is in authority, he does it regularly (as in "join me") and he does it out loud.

It's the group thing out loud with someone in authority that's the problem.

It's a constitutional issue so I consider it a pretty big deal.

Anonymous said...

It is a really big deal. I had a really bright Hindu student 20 years ago. He was annoyed that this constitutional issue was neglected at the time. Better days ahead when the constitution can be understood by more folks and supported.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Any opinion on this topic then must also include the pledge of allegiance, right? It is allowed in Washington state and kids can opt out. But it's performed out loud, and someone in authority directs it (group thing, out loud). This is a state sponsored support of God as long as kids can opt-out. Does the coach not allow kids to opt out? Why has this become news as long as the pledge is still allowed? Rather than applying to a tiny fraction of students, the pledge could involve every student in the entire country!

I attended an event at my son's school a couple years ago - they did the pledge during an assembly. It felt very awkward to me because of my beliefs and I felt uncomfortable being the only one not to do it. I didn't call the media. I didn't ask for the principal to be fired.


https://aclu-wa.org/sites/default/files/attachments/PledgeGuide_2012.pdf

The right of a student to refrain from participating during the Pledge is part of Washington’s law governing school districts. RCW 28A.230.140 says that school boards “shall cause appropriate flag exercises to be held.” It also explains that an “appropriate” flag exercise is one where student participation is voluntary:

Those pupils so desiring shall recite the following salute to the flag: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Students not reciting the pledge shall maintain a respectful silence.

Anonymous said...

There are many big issues. That's true. For me, discussing one doesn't negate the others. Sometimes it expands the depth of conversations. Including ones which involve the Constitution, state and federal laws. IDEA laws protect the historically vulnerable and the marginalized, and those students less able to advocate for themselves. That resonates with this post discussion.

parent

Eric B said...

I believe that the current legal standard on prayer at school events is that adults may not lead the prayer, but students may organize and do whatever they want. That line addresses some of the coercion (everyone's there with the coach, why aren't you?) evident in the article.

The coach should be disciplined for failure to follow the law. If the powers that be want to really make an impact, they can call every game where the coach leads a prayer a forfeit by Bremerton. That would change things up real quick.

seattle citizen said...

Coach is an authority; kids might feel they should, and if they don't they might be ostracized. Pledge of Allegiance, with "under god", is wrong. That clause, inserted as anti-communist propaganda in 50s, should be deleted.

(Go Beavers!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinting for anonymous (no anonymous comments, give yourself a name):

"Any opinion on this topic then must also include the pledge of allegiance, right? It is allowed in Washington state and kids can opt out. But it's performed out loud, and someone in authority directs it (group thing, out loud). This is a state sponsored support of God as long as kids can opt-out. Does the coach not allow kids to opt out? Why has this become news as long as the pledge is still allowed? Rather than applying to a tiny fraction of students, the pledge could involve every student in the entire country!

I attended an event at my son's school a couple years ago - they did the pledge during an assembly. It felt very awkward to me because of my beliefs and I felt uncomfortable being the only one not to do it. I didn't call the media. I didn't ask for the principal to be fired.


https://aclu-wa.org/sites/default/files/attachments/PledgeGuide_2012.pdf

The right of a student to refrain from participating during the Pledge is part of Washington’s law governing school districts. RCW 28A.230.140 says that school boards “shall cause appropriate flag exercises to be held.” It also explains that an “appropriate” flag exercise is one where student participation is voluntary:

Those pupils so desiring shall recite the following salute to the flag: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Students not reciting the pledge shall maintain a respectful silence."

You obviously haven't gone to a School Board meeting; they say the pledge. But I always leave out "under God."

Yes, Eric, I have seen those court rulings on student lead prayer and that could be a way for them to solve their problem.

I like your solution because it calls into question - is football a religion?

dan dempsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I heard that both agnostic kids on Coach Kennedy's team as well as atheist parents support him - it has never been a problem with the community because the Coach doesn't expect kids to join him unless they want to. Besides he's such a good coach and good role model overall that everyone loves him.

Momof2

Melissa Westbrook said...

But it's not for the community to decide. It's not a private high school; it's a public one.

Anonymous said...

"I like your solution because it calls into question - is football a religion?"

---
Of course football is a religion. Some practice it and some don't. A few are even so bold as to ignore it.

It has different denominations.

When examining how its stadiums are funded, it apparently has tax exempt status.

It has a huge nearly rabid following in the Southeastern US.

Football must be a religion. Like Zen, you can be a devotee of football and another religion as well.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

As a Christian I don't say the flag pledge. 1. All nations are under God. 2. Allegiance is to God and neighbor, a pledge to a flag and nation strikes of idolatry.

Abstained.

Anonymous said...

I always leave out the under God too.

HP