Forty-seven members of Congress have signed onto a joint letter to the Bremerton School District in Washington explaining that Bremerton High football coach Joe Kennedy has the constitutionally guaranteed right to kneel and pray on the 50-yard line after games.
The school district is currently reviewing Kennedy's job status after the Christian coach defied school district orders and continued his tradition of praying at midfield following the conclusion of games.
Although Kennedy never forces students to join in his prayer, many students choose to join him in prayer. The school district has warned Kennedy that he needs to wait until students leave the stadium until he can pray or else that would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Washington State Education Superintendent Randy Dorn backed the school district's attempt at censorship in a statement last week saying that, "leading prayer might put a student in awkward position even if the prayer is voluntary. What's more, the official could open up the district to lawsuits."
In a letter sent Tuesday to Bremerton School District Superintendent Aaron Leavell that was headed by the co-chairs of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Congress members explained that the school district's position that the coach's prayer violates the Establishment Clause is completely wrong.
"The Establishment Clause exists to ensure that the government cannot affirmatively impose or elevate one religion over another. However, it does not prohibit the government from referencing religion altogether, nor does it require that government officials proactively scrub all references of religion from the public square," the letter asserts. "Rather, the Establishment Clause ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion, and that government does not take away an individual's ability to exercise religion."
The letter cites the recent Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway, where the court ruled that the town did not violate the the Establishment Clause by opening its town meetings with a prayer offered by clergy members because it does not coerce participation by non adherents.
"The court rejected the feeble argument that a reasonable observer would believe that the government was favoring Christianity over other religions. The content of what was volunteered was irrelevant, so long as all were welcome," the letter explains. "The crucial principles are no less applicable here."
"The mere act of a single individual kneeling alone after the conclusion of a game to quietly pray coerces no one, even when that individual is a school employee," the letter continues. "That others may choose to join him of their own free will is irrelevant, and an exercise of their own constitutional freedoms."
According to an announcement by the Christian law firm the Liberty Institute on Monday, Kennedy plans to file a lawsuit against the school district because the district has not provided a religious accommodation and continues to threaten to fire Kennedy if he continues with his post-game prayers.
Kennedy, who is a Desert Storm and Desert Shield combat veteran, is now being denied the freedom that he fought so hard to protect, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins argued.
"The Bremerton football coach didn't spend 20 years defending freedom only to have his stolen, but that's exactly what the school district is threatening," Perkins wrote in his Tuesday Washington Update.
Perkins also stated that the school district's actions violate the Constitution and the previous Supreme Court precedents.
"Stop praying or start walking. That's the message from the 'tolerant' Left," Perkins argued. "There's just one problem: the school's decision isn't rooted in the law. Teachers, coaches, administrators — or public employees of any kind — don't lose their religious freedom when they step on school property. Insisting otherwise is a violation of their civil rights."
"In the meantime, Joe may lose his job but not his faith," Perkins added. "No one knows better than this combat veteran: the battles — on the field and off — belong to the Lord."