LOYAL DAILY DAWG READERS: WE’RE ZOOMING WITH THE DAWG THIS FRIDAY AT 10. HOPE YOU CAN JOIN ME AND SPECIAL GUEST CRAIG WOOD FOR A LIVELY DISCUSSION OF THE CASE OF THE PRAYING COACH!
There are dozens of “amicus” briefs filed with the Supreme Court as it considers The Case of the Praying Coach. Those briefs are from the usual suspects, making the usual arguments. The atheists are against the coach, as is the ACLU. The Christians are split on the matter, some supporting the coach and some opposed. Educational associations from teachers to administrators to school board members support the school district. Lots of former pro football players and some noteworthy coaches support the coach.
I found one amicus brief from a group that does not fit into the “usual suspects” category. It’s from “Bremerton Community Members, BHS Football Team Alumnus, Parents, Community Leaders, and Educators.” This group supports the school’s decision to restrict Coach Kennedy’s postgame prayers. Why would they do that? Why would they be opposed to a man taking a few moments to privately and silently give thanks to God?
They would oppose it because that’s not how it happened. They submitted their brief “to provide context about how [Coach Kennedy] placed his rights above their own.” Here are their own words:
Each Friday evening in the fall, these individuals gathered under the bright lights of the Bremerton High School football field to champion their beloved team, echo the fight songs of the cheerleaders, applaud the marching band’s halftime performance, and support the youth who make up their community’s future. Though not the reigning state champions, the Bremerton football team was a symbol of the comradery that once lived in their small city, a community united in their differences. Where Bremerton High School is the arena, its football field is the stage.
[We] understand that a community is an ensemble cast; not a one man show. It is a troupe of folks from all walks of life, brought together by their own unique faiths and beliefs. When [Coach Kennedy] chose to center his own rights at mid-field of this once-celebrated community gathering [our] community united quickly became a community divided.
The brief then goes on to describe the situation from the perspective of several individuals. One of the players describes what happened at the homecoming game of his senior year:
“To this day, I don’t remember who we played or if we even won. All I remember is the aftermath of that game.” Before the players had the opportunity to shake hands, he remembered over 500 people “storming the football field…from both sides, hopping the fences and rushing to the field to be close to Kennedy before he started his prayer.” The player felt “uncomfortable and unsafe” and “felt attention was shifted from our football team and focused toward Kennedy’s prayer circle.”
Of course it had. That’s because Coach Kennedy had riled up the public with a media blitz announcing that he intended to defy his employer’s directive and continue to take a knee and say a prayer at the 50-yard line right after the game. The school had offered the coach numerous alternatives whereby he could exercise his right to pray without embroiling the school in litigation or controversy. Coach Kennedy would have none of that. He lawyered up, cut off negotiations with the school, surrounded himself with advocate groups that were itching for exactly this fight, and set the stage for the media circus at the homecoming game. Those 500 people who stormed the field were accompanied by TV and print reporters and a state legislator. At the homecoming game.
So it’s not as simple as Coach Kennedy’s lawyers want to make it. They claim that what Coach Kennedy did is no different from a coach silently making the Sign of the Cross at the start of the game. Surely, they argue, publicly employed teachers and coaches retain some measure of religious freedom. Surely, they can quietly, briefly, offer a prayer, even when they are on the job.
Now it is up to the Supreme Court to draw the line. There is a line—all sides agree to that. The First Amendment has a built in tension. It protects the free exercise of religion, while also prohibiting the government from creating an “establishment of religion.” When the founders adopted the First Amendment they were not contemplating how that tension would play out in an athletic contest involving children at a publicly funded institution supervised by publicly funded employees. SCOTUS will draw the line when it issues its decision in this case. Because of the importance of this case, the Daily Dawg will devote all of this week (except for Toolbox Tuesday!) to The Case of the Praying Coach.
DAWG BONE: THE FIRST AMENDMENT HAS BUILT IN TENSION. SCOTUS WILL HAVE TO DRAW A LINE FOR US.
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Tomorrow: we detour from the Case of the Praying Coach for Toolbox Tuesday!!