Monday, October 19, 2015

Bremerton Coach Prayed Friday Night: Now What?

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CNN is reporting that Bremerton (WA) High School coach Joe Kennedy knelt and prayed Friday night---on the field following the game, "as he has done for the past 7 years."

The school district had warned that if he did it again he would face being fired.

He did it again.

Kennedy, a former Marine, says a person must stand for what they believe. He believes in, and has fought to defend our liberties, including our freedom of religion and religious expression.

Many parents and students express their high respect for Coach Joe, even though they do not claim to be religious. Some said they came to the game so they could join Joe in prayer.

Now what?

Following the football game Friday night, Joe walked out onto the field and bent his knee in prayer.

Kennedy, while shedding a few tears, told reporters the experience was "overpowering."

He said, "I've got my eyes closed and I feel all these people around me. I'm like, God, I hope those aren't kids. I'm sitting there and going, 'God, thank you for this opportunity. And...if this is the last time I step on this field with these guys...."

CNN and local news organizations have called the school over the weekend and left messages asking, "Now what?"

The offices, of course, have been closed but will open this morning. We'll see what happens.

In a letter to the school district, Liberty Institute, a Christian legal firm, said Kennedy is within his rights to pray after the game.

They say, "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."

Most common sense citizens agree.

The Kitsap Sun reports for the most part, Bremerton (Knights) fans supported Kennedy. Some traveled from other cities on the Peninsula and elsewhere to stand with him.

Rachel Taylor, whose son is on the team, says, "He's taught the boys an example of how to stand strong and not back down."

Destinee Triplett said, "My only thought is, he's been doing it so long, why is it a problem now?"

Keith Olson, a Bremerton High alum, said, "I believe he's right myself. If he's not asking them (students) to go out and pray, he's on his own time."

But the school district says he isn't on his own time. They say he is not free to pray until all the football players have taken off their uniforms.

The Seattle Times says, "Numerous people at the homecoming game came to support Kennedy...."

Andy Lancaster of Silverdale "came to his first football game at Bremerton High on Friday to pray with Kennedy after the game."

Andy said, "I'm here because I can't stand ACLU bullies."

Gordy Byrd, Bremerton High alum, said he hadn't been to a Bremerton game in over 40 years, but he, too, came to pray with Kennedy.

State Representative Jessie Young, R-Gig Harbor, stood next to Kennedy in support throughout the game.

Cory Flournoy, 17, a senior who was filming the game for his media class said students are "sick and absolutely tired of it all."

"It's ridiculous that he got in trouble at all," he said.

Brandon Chavez, who played football at Bremerton High previously, said, "I prayed because I'm a Catholic, but some walked off. There was never any pressure."

The school district's lawyers disagree with Bremerton High alum Keith Olson and others. They say Kennedy isn't on his own time after the game, until all the players have taken off their uniforms, the fans have left and the lights have been turned off---then Kennedy can pray.

In fact, the district's lawyers say he cannot even kneel without audibly praying without violating the separation of church and state policy.

If he looks like he might be praying, he can be fired.

Liberty Institute says all the district has to do is make a disclaimer and say Kennedy doesn't represent the district.

Perhaps it was a feature column by the Seattle Times sports writer Matt Calkins that shed the most light of the matter.

Calkins began his column with this: "I should probably start by saying that I'm not religious."

He continued, "I don't go to church. I don't quote Scripture. And while I ask people for forgiveness constantly, it's been a while since I've asked a higher power."

Calkins spoke to coach Kennedy last week after Kennedy said he would pray Friday night in spite of the district's threat to fire him.

He wrote in his column, "All I could think was this: I hope my kid has a coach like that some day."

"Ethan Hacker," Calkins says "is an agnostic and is captain of the football team and is yet to miss the post game prayer. To him, those few minutes aren't about a Father in Heaven---they're about his brothers on Earth."

Ethan also told Calkins, "It's about unity. We can be mad at each other all we want during a game and get upset, but once the game is over, that all goes away."

Hacker's mother, Kaci Sun, is an atheist, Calkins observes, and she too says the idea of halting the prayer "is absolutely ridiculous."

Calkin's, a sports writer who covers a lot of sports, says, "A coach praying isn't exposing kids to anything new. If anything, it's an example of someone being comfortable with who they are---even in the face of unemployment."

He quotes coach Kennedy--"I tell my kids to be bold in their beliefs. I want to set an example to stand up for what you believe in."

Calkins responses with this personal observation: "I feel like those are the words of a true role model. I feel like that's an attitude of the kind of coach we want around kids."

"Like I said," Calkins concludes, "I'm not really one to look to the heavens. But Joe Kennedy? It's hard not to look up to him."

Will they fire him?

This matter will continue to play out in the news today and in the days to come. We'll see what the school district decides to do. We'll keep you posted.

A couple of thoughts to take away from this.

  • When you stand with the proper godly attitude, for deeply held biblical beliefs, it impacts others positively, even if they don't share those beliefs.

  • This episode once again lays bare the hypocrisy of the false narrative wrapped around President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, assuring them the government is kept from interfering in the church's business, "In fact, there is," Jefferson said, "a wall that will protect you from the government."  Only in recent years has this letter of assurance to the churches been inverted and used by secularists to undermine, and in some cases destroy the very right---religious freedom----that led our Founders to declare their independence from a tyrannical king, fight a war and create a new nation under God, with liberty and justice for all. The Constitution's Establishment Clause and Jefferson's assurance letter was intended to underscore that government will never be allowed to interfere in matters of religious faith and its personal expression.

  • This is a day when people of faith are being called upon to stand for what they believe. And sometimes there are consequences.

  • These days require all of us who claim to be Christians to re-evaluate what we actually believe and why---then be willing to take a personal stand.

Now Kennedy waits to see what the school district will do to him.

He told the press Friday night: "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."

I'm reminded of something Ronald Reagan once said: "If we don't act now, we will find ourselves sitting around our hearths in our sunset years, telling our children and our children's children what it was like to live in America in the days when men were free...Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction."

Be Informed. Be Strong. Be Faithful.