The legal position on prayer in public school in America is, generally, settled. Across decades of cases, the Supreme Court has held that religion may not be included in school-sponsored activities, but that students may independently gather for religious purposes. But a high school football coach in the Seattle area is pushing against the boundary of what religious expression is allowed, and now the local Satanic Temple has gotten involved.
For years, after every Bremerton High School football game, coach Joe Kennedy—a Christian—has been joined by players, opponents, fans, and even fellow coaches at midfield to pray. In September the district superintendent told Kennedy he must stop, and that he and other teachers must avoid discussing religion with students “so as to avoid alienation of any team member,” and avoid breaking the law.
But after initially ceasing his 50-yard-line prayers Kennedy resumed them, and he and his Liberty Institute lawyer are making a curious argument: according to them, because the prayers happen after the game, at that point it is no longer a school function and Kennedy is no longer a school employee. Never mind that it occurs on school grounds, with students he coaches, before he gives a post-game talk in the locker room. The case has blown up, with 47 members of Congress signing a letter supporting him even as his job is in jeopardy.
The fun-looking woman in the photo above is Lilith Starr, and she heads up The Satanic Temple of Seattle. Spotting a keen opportunity to make a point with a bit of mischief, over the weekend Starr put out a release stating that Satanic Temple clergy would lead a post-game satanic invocation on the field for any student or staff member who requested it.
On Tuesday senior class president Abe Bartlett and a few others took Starr up on her offer. The Satanic Temple has requested that members be allowed onto the field after Thursday night’s game against Sequim High School to lead their satanic invocation, and even if their request is denied they still plan on showing up to the game in their robes. Their planned satanic invocation sounds wild:
If the group is allowed to give an invocation, Starr said members of the temple will read a proclamation, punctuating the end of each sentence by banging a gong. Temple members will be dressed in ceremonial robes and carry an incense burner, Starr said. The ceremony will last about seven minutes.
“We will most likely address the theme of justice and equal religious liberty for all,” Starr said.
And just for good measure, here’s one more photo of Lilith. She sure seems happy to be a satanist!
Update (11:47 p.m.): The Seattle Times has just reported that the school district has placed Kennedy on leave. Here is their rationale:
In a statement issued Wednesday, the district said Coach Joe Kennedy failed to comply with the “District’s lawful and constitutionally-required directives that he refrian [sic] from engaging in overt, public religious display on the football field while on duty as coach.”
The district said it appreciates his positive contribution to the football program and regrets having to put him on leave. But his conduct posed a risk that the district would be liable for violating federal and state constitutional rights of students and others, the statement says.
Photos via AP; h/t D