Joseph Kennedy coached a high school football team in the Bremerton School District. He “lost his job as a high school football coach in the Bremerton School District after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer.”
Some acconts say Coach Kennedy invited those players who wanted to pray with him to do so. If he did, some viewed that as a sort of passive coercion. Regardless of whether that happened or not, there is no genuine claim that anyone was coerced to pray with Coach Kennedy. Kennedy filed suit.
In 1963 the Supreme Court ruled in Abington v. Schempp, a representative of the state, such as a school teacher, could not lead children in a prayer or reading the Bible. There was no wording in this decision or the Constitution saying a student cannot pray at school or carry a Bible to school to read during their free time, nor is there anything that prohibits a teacher from personal prayer at school or bringing a Bible to read during his or her free time.
As long as the teacher and the student does not disturb the learning process, they can exercise their right to pray and read their Bible during whatever personal time is afforded them whether it is during the student’s study hall, for instance, or the teacher during his or her planning period. They can say grace over their meal at lunch time as is appropriate, nothing hinders their private right to the free exercise of their religion. More freedoms are lost for failure to exercise them than their being taken.
The 1963 decision did not take prayer and Bible reading out of my home or church. The responsibility for the spiritual instruction of children was never given to the school system; that responsibility was given to the parents. In the Old Testament the admonition is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and repeated in the New Testament in Epheians 6:4.
In one sense, I applaud the decision of the Court to allow Coach Kennedy the right to practice “quiet personal prayer.” In another sense, I am concerned. Why did Coach Kennedy feel the need to pray at midfield, why the need for ostentation?
While I recognize the right and need for public prayer within a worship service, or when one is in a restaurant setting and wants to thank God for the meal they are about to receive, Jesus clearly instructed us “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you,” Matthew 6:5-6.
I am left wondering, did Coach Kennedy want to make a statement, or did he want to pray?