I wrote about the Supreme Court case won by Coach Joseph Kennedy back in July (July 16, 2022). He is back in the news; after winning his case he is to be reinstated to his former position with the Bremerton School District by March of 2023.
To reacquaint my readers with the case, Kennedy “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.” Though no student was required to pray with him, some did, and the school district thought his praying might be viewed as “passive coercion,” (Passive coercion is an oxymoron; there is nothing passive about coercion) and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
At least one recent article said the Court’s decision in the Kennedy case was a “game-changer” when it came to school prayer, but that is because the ruling in Abington v. Schempp taking prayer and Bible reading out of public schools has been misunderstood.
Abington v. Schempp’s basic ruling was that a government employee, such as a school teacher, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment if they led public school students, who are minors, in prayer or Bible reading. There was no language in that 1963 decision that prevented a teacher on their own time, such as a planning period, or a student on their own time, such as a study hall, from their right to the Free Exercise of their religion, such as prayer or Bible reading.
One of my daughters called me and said my granddaughter had been asked by a classmate something about Jesus and my granddaughter was answering her question when the teacher told her she could not talk about religion in class. I told my daughter that was not true; students are at liberty to discuss religion as long as it does not interfere with classroom instruction.
In one sense, I applaud the decision of the Court to allow Coach Kennedy the right to pray. Students on either sideline and parents were free to join or not to join with him in what Justice Neil Gorsuch in his majority opinion characterized as “quiet personal prayer.” This was not a game-changer in school prayer. This decision allows a government employee the same right to exercise his freedom of religion appropriately as any other citizen is allowed.
In another sense, I am concerned. Why did Coach Kennedy feel the need to pray at midfield, why the need for ostentation? Why did he need to publicly challenge the Bremerton School District’s order?
Jesus clearly enjoined 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 pray Coach Kennedy’s heart and prayer were in the right place, meaning his attitude was to offer heartfelt prayer to God on behalf of all involved, and not to merely challenge or humiliate the school district. I simply want to remind us as believers, we prevail on a higher plane when we take our petitions before the real Supreme Court as Daniel did. It does not convene down here.