Congress has intervened in a Washington school district dispute where a football coach who was forbidden from praying midfield after games has filed suit against the district, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
The Congressional Prayer Caucus Chairmen sent a letter with other congressmen to Bremerton School District officials Tuesday, demanding they respect the coach’s right to religious expression.
Assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, a Desert Storm and Desert Shield combat veteran, has been praying at the 50-yard line since 2008, and it eventually became a tradition where the players joined him. But the kerfuffle began when Bremerton School District told Kennedy in September that he had to stop the tradition because they feared it would open them up to a lawsuit.
Kennedy initially agreed, but he has since refused and prayed midfield after the team’s last two games, drawing both national scrutiny and support. Now, he and the Christian legal group the Liberty Institute are suing the district for refusing to grant Kennedy a religious accommodation and threatening to fire him if he prays again.
“I spent 20 years in the military fighting to defend the Constitution and it didn’t seem right that I wasn’t allowed to say a prayer with my guys after a football game was over,” Kennedy told The Daily Caller News Foundation earlier this month. “I’m standing up for what I believe is right.”
The Congressional Prayer Caucus’s co-chairmen, Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford and Republican Oklahoma Rep. Randy Forbes, sent the letter along with almost 50 other congressmen to Bremerton Superintendent Aaron Leavell and Principal John Polm.
“The Establishment Clause does not require quarantining private, non-coercive religious expression to private quarters or off-duty hours,” the letter reads.
The letter argues that just because someone witnesses or is offended by religious expression doesn’t mean they are being coerced.
“Protecting Coach Kennedy’s freedom to choose to kneel quietly after the conclusion of a high school football game and pray, in a way which coerces no one, is something that all Americans should rally behind — regardless of religion or political persuasion,” Forbes told TheDCNF. “Because … protecting one American’s right to pray, is protecting every American’s right to pray.”
The letter also argues that religious activity by a single public official does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of religion. So far, Kennedy is still employed as a coach.
“We are doing something great in our community,” Kennedy told TheDCNF earlier this month. “We are building our kids up and sending the right message about what the sport is really about, which is making better men out of them.”
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