We are told by Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who can spin a wild yarn with the best of them, that a school district is threatening to fire a football coach if he prays in public. This time, for once, it’s not a wild yarn but something that is actually taking place. Leave it to Todd Starnes, however, to be standing on the wrong sideline.
Starnes is horrified, and he ought to be because Jesus said only hypocrites pray in public (Matthew 6:5-6):
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Typically, however, Starnes isn’t horrified by a football coach who wants to pray like a hypocrite, but by a school district actually upholding Jesus’ will, whether they are trying to or not.
Imagine that, a Republican going against the will of Jesus. I know, I am as surprised as you.
The story, at FoxNews.com tell us that “A school district in Washington State has decided to play hardball with a football coach who refused to stop his mid-field, post-game prayers.” Joe Kennedy, an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, likes to pray at midfield after games:
Starnes tells us,
Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is preparing to initiate legal proceedings against the school district — accusing them of religious discrimination.
And sure enough, deputy chief counsel Hiram Sasser wrote:
Accordingly, the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by individuals acting privately, as is the case with Coach Kennedy. No reasonable observer could conclude that a football coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the field and then walks to midfield to say a short, private, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state.
Well, the middle of the field is a very public place, and the United States Constitution is far from unreasonable.
Liberty University says the coach’s religious freedom is being violated, but the School District disagrees:
“The district is in no way taking away an athletic coach’s freedom of expression,” Superintendent Aaron Leavell said in a statement. “What we are doing is what every state-funded agency and school district must do: abide by the laws that govern us.”
Like every public school district in the nation, our teaching and coaching staff is not allowed to include religious expression, including prayer, in talks with students while on duty for the District. District coaching staff remains on duty following games and until players have changed out of their uniforms and released to their parents.
You know, that pesky law a certain county clerk found so unbearable when it required her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Like Kim Davis, Coach Kennedy says he is going to do what’s “right,” meaning the United States Constitution is wrong, something we’ve been hearing a lot lately from the Republican Party and Religious Right.
Kennedy said, according to The Seattle Times, “I always taught my kids to do what’s right … and fight for what you believe in.”
Except the guy you are praying to says, quite plainly, not to do it. And here I always thought the idea of the Bible was to do what the Bible told you to do, not the opposite. Isn’t that why they keep trying to shove their Ten Commandments down our throats?
Now Kennedy says:
“Whatever happens happens, you know. But I’m going to be bold in my faith and I’m going to fight the good fight and I want to set that example for every one of the kids if you believe in something.”
How much do you really believe in something if you don’t do what the author of that something – Jesus – tells you to do? It’s a religion about Jesus, after all. Right? It does matter what Jesus says. Doesn’t it?
School Board President, Dave Rubie expressed support for Superintendent Leavell in a School Board Meeting on October 16, pointing both to the United States Constitution and to case law.
Given Jesus’ words on the subject, shouldn’t Liberty Institute be pushing rules to prevent people from praying in public? You would think. But the Religious Right and the Republican Party has spit on Jesus’ words nearly as often as they have spit on the United States Constitution.
At this point, given the pick ‘n choose moral relativism for which they have become known, it would be a surprise if they defended either.
As a side note, Jesus didn’t say to sue people. He said to forgive them. Right there after telling them not to pray in public, he added (Matthew 6:14-15):
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
There is scarce any need to say there will be any of that namby-pampy Jesus-talk of “turning of the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40) by either Liberty Institute or Coach Kennedy because if there is one thing America’s homegrown religious extremists do not do, it is turn the other cheek. They’d rather launch a crusade instead.
And so, right on cue, Liberty Institute says if Kennedy isn’t allowed to continue praying – against Jesus’ wishes – they will sue the school district. This makes as much sense as anything said at the Republican debate last night.
And waters got even murkier when the Associated Press reported yesterday that “The controversy over a Bremerton high school football coach leading students in Christian prayer got a new wrinkle this week when a group of Satanists demanded equal time.”
That’s the funny thing about Religious Freedom conservatives don’t understand. It applies to everybody – equally. Even – especially – people you don’t approve of, and the Satanic Temple of Seattle says they were inviting by a Bremerton student who can’t participate for fear of retaliation.
If Coach Kennedy actually believes in Religious Freedom, he ought to be the first one jumping up to defend the unknown student’s own Religious Freedom. So too, ought Liberty University, Todd Starnes, and Fox News.
Fat chance of that happening.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.