This is the Kind of Coach I Want My Kids Playing For

Posted on December 31, 2015 in Public Policy, Religious Freedom by

Coach Joe KennedySuppose you’re a high-school football coach that has received praise and accolades in your annual review for the last 7 years. You’ve also been told by athletes and parents about what a good influence you are on the players and what a great role model you are. You don’t do anything special or different for your entire tenure as a coach. Then, one day you find out the school is placing you on administrative leave and suggesting you not be re-hired.

What would you think?

That is the position coach Joe Kennedy found himself in when the local Washington state school district he worked for refused to allow him to continue saying silent prayers on the football field.

Here’s the story.

In 2008 Coach Kennedy saw the movie “Facing the Giants” and decided to start praying for his team. He would stroll out to the field before and after games to say a silent prayer for the athletes. He didn’t tell anyone, didn’t invite anyone, he just started praying. Before long members of his team joined him and they would silently pray before and after games. No one was forced. No one was disciplined or removed from the team for not praying. It was a completely voluntary routine.

This went on for 7 years until someone complimented Coach Kennedy to the principal. Yep, you read that right. No one complained. Instead someone gave the coach a compliment and praised him to the principal who then decided that maybe they were doing something wrong….after 7 years. This led to the school district asking Coach Kennedy to stop his long-held routine. Kennedy insisted he was doing nothing wrong by offering silent prayers and not requiring anyone to participate but the school district said that merely praying was prohibited.

Neither the school nor Coach Kennedy backed down. The standoff led to the school placing the coach on administrative leave pending a review. The review – which had always been glowing remarks about the coach – stated that Coach Kennedy was not to be rehired.

Say what you want about the fictitious “separation of church and state” not found anywhere in our founding documents; this is nothing less than a violation of Coach Kennedy’s freed exercise of religion and free speech. To tell someone that he or she cannot engage in a public expression of speech and/or religion is a fundamental violation of freedom. It would be one thing if Kennedy was demanding that everyone take a knee and join him in prayer. Coercing or forcing an individual to take part in a religious exercise is a clear violation of their freedom. But to tell someone that he can’t simply take a moment to offer a silent prayer as an expression of his religious convictions is equally wrong.

What exactly is the difference between offering a silent prayer and a “moment of silence”? We all know that when someone calls for a moment of silence that many people simply say a silent prayer. Suppose Coach Kennedy had said, “Okay, no more prayers. We are just going to have a ‘moment of silence’ before and after each game for a time of personal ‘reflection.’” There would be no way for the school district to tell him no, or refuse such a request.

But Coach Kennedy was honest. He told the school that he was offering silent prayers. And somehow, the fact that they have this knowledge gives them the right to persecute him.

How often have we heard from our political leaders a call to prayer? In the wake of tragedy we are asked to pray. In light of war or poverty in other parts of the world we are encouraged to pray. Even our own president often comments about his faith, his prayers, and even quotes (sort of) the Bible! Consider President Obama’s remarks at the National Day of Prayer from The White House this year:

“I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this ‘march of living hope,’ I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and ‘put on love.’ May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.”

Wait a minute! Our president is quoting the Bible but a high-school football coach can’t offer a silent prayer? Something doesn’t add up. Why isn’t anyone chastising President Obama and telling him to keep his religion at church? Why hasn’t an atheist group blasted Obama for his “religious rhetoric” and demanded he never do it again?

I can’t help but wonder if things would have turned out the same had the coach been a Buddhist or Muslim. Would there be a legal uproar over an environmentalist offering “thoughts of peace to mother earth”? It’s hard to conclude that anything would have come of the situation if it would have been anyone other than a Christian.

To his credit, Coach Kennedy is behaving like the role model everyone thought he was. When asked why he refuses to back down, even when it might cost him his job, he replied:

“I made a commitment to pray for them. So after the games, I am just thanking God for putting these incredible young men in my life, and for blessing me with this opportunity…I want to teach my kids those same values; that you have to take a stand for what is right, even if it might cost you. So, I can’t not do this. I have to continue to be a role model, even if some think it’s unpopular.”

That’s the kind of coach I want my kids playing for.

Coach Kennedy is not the only coach under fire for offering silent prayers. You can read here about Coach Stine in Naperville, Illinois who is also being threatened with his job for offering silent prayers. Amazingly, his team is united with him and defending him as a solid coach and role model. Maybe schools should be more concerned with drugs, violence, and failing grades than silent prayers for the safety of our student athletes.

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