Note: This piece originally ran on May 8 and is reprinted in light of the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in favor of Joseph Kennedy.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Imagine if a Flagler Palm Coast High School football coach who happened to be Muslim decided one day after a game to spread his rug on the 50-yard line, point its pretty mihrab design toward Mecca, bow his callused forehead to the ground and intone a Muslim prayer cadenced to Allahu Akbars.
It is doubtful that a) the coach, having an instinct for self-preservation, would do that in the first place; b) that the crowd would be anymore welcoming than a gun-rally flock was to Borat; or c) that anyone would join him, whether Muslim or out of ecumenical solidarity. In a district where even wearing a rival school’s shirt could get you booted off campus, it’s not difficult to guess that the coach’s fate would not be an exalted one.
You don’t have to imagine this next scene. It’s at the heart of a U.S. Supreme Court case. Joseph Kennedy was a coach at a high school near Seattle. A Christian coach. He took a knee–no, not that knee–and prayed at the 50-yard line after games, a gesture that became a magnet to students and others who thronged around him as if in a divine scrum.
The school district asked him to stop using the 50-yard line as a stage. He could pray, but not use the gesture as spectacle (or bait to students who may feel coerced to join in, but that dimension of the prayer is not before the court). As a public school coach parading his act, he was turning a private prayer, which is protected by the First Amendment, into an endorsement of religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment.
Kennedy refused, knowing what would come next. He was fired. Nothing like a zealot’s sense of opportunity. That’s what had drawn Kennedy to the 50-yard line, after all. So he sued, finding in the First Liberty Institute just the sort of templars looking to make the Supreme Court’s brawn-again crusaders its new Jerusalem.
The court heard the case at the end of April. No need for leaks or illusions. Oral arguments were prophesy. The court will decide for Kennedy by at least a 5-4 vote, very possibly 6-3–because on matters of Christian supremacy, Chief Justice John Roberts is just one more thurible clickety-clinking with them.
But it will do so by fabricating a right not just out of emanations and penumbras like those the court used to expand the right to privacy, including Roe v. Wade, but out of thin air. We saw similar fabrications in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and D.C. v. Heller in 2008, the decision inventing an individual right to bear arms (a right I support statutorily, but let’s not pretend that it’s in the Constitution, at least not if you’re an originalist like the decision’s author.)
“I don’t know how we could write an opinion that would draw a line based on not making yourself the center of attention as the head coach of a game,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during arguments, showing his hand the way all the justices supporting Kennedy did. That’s how Kavanaugh is using the very reason not to find for Kennedy as a way to find for him.
There is an unseemly showiness in the act. The showiness is the act, because there wouldn’t be one without it. The prayer is entirely dependent on the stage of a 50-yard line at a public school event, the focal point of the entire stadium. Otherwise, why not humbly pray as he claims he intended, as a private act, as the apostle Matthew exhorts, unseen and behind a closed door, say, or wherever he may be on the sideline at the end of a game? So whether others join in or not is irrelevant. The potential coercion is irrelevant. His purposefully center-stage act compels attention and preaches loudly, smugly and discriminately.
It is, as Henry Sawyer III, arguing before the Supreme Court in the 1963 Pennsylvania case that invalidated school-sponsored Bible readings, told the justices, “the final arrogance to talk constantly about our religious tradition in this country and acquaint it with this Bible. Sure, religious tradition. Whose religious tradition? It isn’t any part of the religious tradition of a substantial number of Americans. … And it is just to me a little bit easy and I say arrogant to keep talking about our religious tradition. It suggests that the public schools at least to Pennsylvania are a kind of Protestant institutions to which others are cordially invited.”
That was 60 years ago, when the country was a lot less religiously diverse than it is today. Kennedy’s act erases that reality and regresses us to a time of presumptuous assumptions. It assumes, as a Muslim, a Jew, a Shinto, a pagan or an atheist never could–which is all you need to know about the reason for and the genius of the Establishment clause–that the act is perfectly accepted. It may well be in Kennedy’s little world. It is not in law. It hasn’t been in practice. It should never be so, if we are to remain the secular society where no sect can claim supremacy.
The successful secular society, I should say: in every measure, from belief in God (even in angels) to participation in religious services to praying, Americans rank among the most pious in the western world even as Christianity has declined by 12 in the past decade. But that’s the rub. It has done so not because there’s fewer believers (that remains at 90 percent), but because the country has become more religiously mixed, and fewer people are choosing to affiliate themselves with an organized sect.
Narratives as risible as those of Ark Encounter and other evangelical versions of manichean America aside, Christianity is not under assault in this country. It’s not in danger even as its numbers are declining relative to other faitsh. To the contrary. It assaults the senses as no other religion does everywhere one goes, from workplaces to public places to billboards to every other social media page to the presumptuous preaching of strangers to public meetings, where local officials love to gush their sanctimony between every other act of contempt for those unlike their holiness.
That’s the context of Joseph Kennedy’s choreographed prayer. It is not about religious freedom. It is not about God. It is not even about praying, none of it needing the 50-yard line of a public school’s turf to express itself sincerely. But it’s not about sincerity, either. It’s about imposing one version of Christianity–bragging, ostentatious, in your face and down your throat–in an increasingly pluralist society in one of the last places where that kind of favoritism has no place. It is intolerance by exclusivity.
Not to worry though, it soon will be law, and something more consequential. It will be the fulfillment of a view of American government by Antonin Scalia, the court’s late prophet. “The Lord repaid — did justice — through His minister, the state,” Scalia told the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2002, before explicitly rejecting secular democracy: “The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible.”
Joseph Kennedy’s prayer is about to give Christian arrogance its latest victory at the expense of a society becoming more diverse but less civil, less tolerant and more theocratic by the day.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece aired on WNZF. Disclosure: In the Kennedy v. Bremerton School District case before the Supreme Court, lawyers for Americans United for Separation of Church and State are representing the Bremerton school district. Merrill Shapiro, who chairs the FlaglerLive Board of Directors, also chairs the Atlantic Coast Chapter of Americans United. He was not involved in the preparation of this column.
You still waiting on the 27 virgins on the other side. Maybe you should get a pilot’s license, better yet, take that shit back to where you come from. AMERICA is losing patience with the kinds of you…
Pierre Tristam says
There you go. We didn’t have to wait long for the column’s point to be grimly proven, bringing back grimmer, typically Flagler memories. Incidentally lamo, I am, alas, Catholic, but that’s beside the point.
I think actually, you missed the point Pierre. Its still vogue to criticize, lambast, mock and deride religion (well Christianity anyway) – I could see the same article framed about Christian Students Protesting and shutting school down – rather than laud them like you you do Jack P., I am sure this column would not be so kind. There is much intellectual dishonesty in this article – especially the point about exclusivity. EVERY worldview, EVERY belief system, everyone, has a point of exclusivity.
Mike, the constitution cannot be read nor interpreted apart from the Declaration of Independence. They are companion documents neither of which would exist without the other. Go back and read the declaration is it came out first and then let everything soaking in context
Hey, what ever became of the RRR??? Did they “rebrand” themselves as the Trump Club?
Michael Cocchiola says
I am secular humanist. I am offended when Christian zealots impose their beliefs on me by publically worshiping in any way that implies a school/community/city/state or nationally-sponsored religion.
For you hard-line religious warriors… read the U.S Constitution. Or is that your next target for abuse?
I find it ironic that the the same people having a meltdown over a a man praying at school are fighting like hell to have kindergartens teach about sex and transgenderism at the same school.
It’s not to hard to understand why this country is falling apart.
Michael Cocchiola says
Well said, Justsayin. Except, help me out here. Just who among the people having a meltdown are fighting to have sex and transgenderism taught in kindergarten? Can you name one lawsuit, one petetition, one school, one kindergarten class, one depraved individual?
There isn’t any… that is a bold faced lie that is spouted by those who don’t have a clue what they are talking about. And the sad part is that the real issue is the often ignored and constant bullying of students who are, or seem to be, “different”. This smoke screen often mentioned, but completely false, is that there is “indoctrination” going on in schools even with young students. But in reality, the issue is the failure of teachers, school administration officials and parents to properly address taunting and bullying of students perceived to be different rather than upholding strict behavior guidelines and disciplinary measures when students bully others for their own enjoyment.
The dude says
I find that the ones yelling the loudest about how Christian they are, usually turn out to be the least.
True. Especially in Politics. Especially those in the Ultra conservative wing of the Republican Party.
“Christian coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayer at a public school football field’s 50-yard line is not about religious freedom. It is not about God. It is not even about praying. It’s about imposing one version of Christianity in an increasingly pluralist society in one of the last places where that kind of favoritism has no place. It is intolerance by exclusivity.”
That’s your interpretation, most reasonable people don’t really give a fuck. Someone wants to pray at the “50-yard line” is not “imposing one version of Christianity” over another, or any other religion, it’s about someone praying. Get over your hatred of mankind, no one cares who you pray too, why are so you obsessed who other people pray too?
So you’re okay if a coach went out there laid out a carpet and began a prayer involving their religion but not yours?
I really don’t care if you pray to a goat, I would be more concerned for their safety since PC is not the most hospitable location.
Well said Pierre! These clowns pushing their religion on others is a total joke these days. From screaming about how we were founded as a “Christian” Nation (no we weren’t) to Bible thumping about Abortion (not in the Bible) to declaring their God is better than your God (prove it). If the same people could go back to the early American colonies they would not recognize what they believe is Christianity. Defending this Coach for a knee or Tebow for his quasi kneeling pretending all people should join them while chastising Kaepernick, very “Christian”.
Rick G says
As a former believer in this BS I can say with authority that this coach and praying on the 50 yard line is the most reprehensible and irrational thing a coach can do. He or she is an authority figure and outside the church or synagogue they should leave their personal feelings to themselves… He should lead by example not proselytize about what he believes personally.
You are exactly right Pierre, and your article is the perfect example of what is likely to happen when we are not careful about what we wish for. The same people who are yelling about religious freedom are sometimes blind and only see freedom for their particular religious belief. When they see a public display of other’s beliefs that they don’t adhere to or even wish to tolerate, then it becomes a completely different matter. I can foresee future court cases brought by individuals or church groups who are fighting to prevent the display of religions they deem as non-Christian and I swear I can hear it not… “we are a Christian nation” as if the founding fathers declared that all Americans must be faithful to one, and only one form of religion to the exclusion of all others. LOL, you can’t make this stuff up!
Would only be fair to let the house of Satan to have some time during each game to say some words also
He doesn’t need a house – he has a very comfortable abode within all those who don’t believe in the Truth of Jesus Christ. Its not about spreading hate, or denying womens rights; its about Love and Truth. Love and Truth have a name – it is Jesus Christ. Peace
Are you claiming Satan has no love. That people who worship something other than you are filled with hate!? You need to practice more love and acceptance and not so much separation and exclusion. My comment was to prove just that. Have you ever even read the writings of the House of Satan? Or are you just spewing hate?
bella contini says
The house of Satan? Are you talking about LaVeyan Satanism, Temple of Set, theistic Satanists—what? LaVeyan Satanism is basically secular, but still takes pains to state that the Lex Draconis is probably a good idea even though the whole idea is basically San Franciscan hippie ethos and sticking it to the squares. Theistic Satanism (along with every pagan system under the sun, like Hellenism, really interesting) is on the rise in places like TikTok—you can see the number of kids who practice witchcraft, google WitchTok—is not really a very pleasant belief system and you would likely rather not deal with an actual adherent.
I don’t care who prays, whether they do it in public or not, so long as I am not personally being inconvenienced. It takes a lot to inconvenience me. All the bluster of current year ‘This is wrong’ is filled with a lot of sheep bleating.
Prometheus II says
Including the author and all commenters, hear me now for tomorrow you may not get another chance. Any day now an Alien Extra-terrestrial space craft will decide its time to make “First Disclosure” to the human race. They will disclose that there IS NO GOD IN HEAVEN, NO BUDDA, NO ALLAH, NO SATAN. And that THEY created the human race many thousands of years ago. And we our to be exterminated in order to start the planet over again. Which they have done 5 times before.
Let’s hear you bitch about “Religion” then.
Bill C says
You’re too late. Scientology, founded in 1953, espouses the same ideas contained in your “prediction”. Google “Xenu”.
I don’t believe that The ETs would waste their time on an announcement to the very Species they allegedly created. An Asteroid the size of Rhode Island would do. At the same time, I don’t entirely disagree or disbelieve your statement.
The dude says
I, for one, plan to welcome our new robot overlords.
Most folks usually leave the stadium after a game. How much of a snowflake, loser would one have to be, to be offended by something that is totally optional to participate in as post-game ? Same goes for anything pre-game. I always saw the pre-game National Anthem kneeling as someone electing to kneel or stand for the anthem, just as churches have the various points in the service where the congregation kneels, stands or sits. When Kaepernick made it an anti-USA kneel, I still wasn’t offended by that either. But now everyone wants their version of an anthem pre-game. I still have no problem with that, just as long as the kickoff happens at it’s regularly scheduled time. Players that prefer a post-game prayer, more power to them, otherwise head to the locker room & get cleaned up for a post game presser or in the case of HS football, going home to family. What if BLM or LGBTQ held a gathering post-game, is this article still written in that stance of disdain as intolerance & offended ? I don’t care if they do or don’t, because I don’t have to even be there just the same. From the articles stance, you would think that the KKK was gathering at the 50 yard line after a game the way this is being portrayed ? The churches I always went to had a post service social event at the end of the service, people were free to attend or leave after any given service, and nobody was offended.
The dude says
“you would think that the KKK was gathering at the 50 yard line after a game”
It pretty much is. That’s the problem.
This isn’t about piousness or faith, it’s 100% performative and has no substance or purpose whatsoever other than to outwardly virtue signal other religious performative snowflakes.
Pray wherever and whenever and to whatever deity you want, I don’t care. But be sincere and do it for the right reasons.
bella contini says
Be sincere and do it for the right reasons? How do you know he’s a) insincere or b) why he’s doing it? Why are you so worked up over it? This insanely out of proportion reaction to things that have little to no bearing on day to day life are wild to me. You are having these reactions because the person inside the black mirror is telling you to. It’s unhealthy and you should probably disconnect. As the kids say, touch grass.
Might as well have the KKK out there. If your gonna have one hate group like the Christians(who slaughtered many who wouldn’t join their group) then you must allow then all. That’s the point. CHRISTIANITY IS OFFENSIVE TO MANY.
Ben Hogarth says
You said it best Pierre. I (too) was born and raised a (Roman) Catholic, received communion, and later confirmed. Never once have I looked upon another person as unholy, less pious or righteous, and misguided simply because they did not share my perspective. In fact, my view on the entirety of Christian history and events is largely based in historical text and not solely scripture like the Bible(s) or the teachings of the Church. I jest a little here as any historian well knows the many many various translations of ancient text. How we arrive at any one “truth” as events that transpired more than 2000 years ago is beyond my ability to rationalize.
With all that stated, I’ve never been more disenfranchised as a Christian (and as an American) than to see so many individuals use the public forum as their spectacle. While we are free to express our own beliefs even and especially in public, we are not free to coerce others to follow suit. As the litigants of the recent federal case in Boston (SHURTLEFF ET AL . v. CITY OF BOSTON ET AL .) are already learning – be careful what you wish for. The City of Boston lost to the complainant who was right in saying that the City has wrongfully provided a public space for one “free speech organization” and not their own. Therein was the failing of the City who (defacto) held the view that not all flags and political positions are “equal” by refusing to accommodate the other party. Now, both parties will lose as the Church of Satan has already filed its request to the City to fly their flag above City Hall and they will be free to do so.
My point in referencing this recent ruling is to warn those evangelists who would use public forums to indoctrinate the whole of society – this isn’t going to go the way you think it is. You can believe that “God wills it” or that “God is on your side” – but people are not moved by public displays of coercion. Just ask Pontius Pilate. The attempt to control others is at the heart of this case and this article. It is at the very heart of the human struggle.
And it’s not a sustainable position. It’s a losing one.
Sheila Zinkerman says
Christian Nationalists and their followers often claim that the US was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Not true. https://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1746&context=rwu_LR.
The constitution, in fact, is a secular document. It was founded on the principle of religious freedom for all. It is the right to decide which religion to follow – if any – without government coercion or interference.
This false claim of a Christian nation often informs extremist activity from Christian Nationalists like Assistant Coach Kennedy. As he hot-dogs his Christian prayers on the 50 yard line of a football field, he ruptures our country’s fundamental right to practice any or no religion – without favor. He knows other Christian nationalist extremists and their lawmaker allies have his back. But neither public school student football players nor game attendees should feel excluded because of a Christian exhibitionist Assistant Coach reciting Christian prayers that entangle and advance his own Christian faith; this in a government-run school regulated by federal, state and local law. Arrogance indeed!
After reading Pierre’s version, I watched the coaches version. BLM kneel vs Christian Kneel.
MR. Kennedy was not out trying to convert anyone. The 20 year Marine and kid with a troubled past got his life right. He was a coach there 8 years before it became a problem. Hear his story here: https://youtu.be/QcFlPVu90sc
With respect, I must point out some important facts about Assistant Coach Kennedy’s case. What happened and what actually happened doesn’t tone with what he told Glen Beck. For example, Kennedy went on a media blitz and distorted the facts of his case. He said he was fired. He wasn’t. He said there was no pressure for student athletes to join in his public prayer. There was. In fact, it caused disruptions at the games. He even bragged to Beck that he had police officers for security near him during games and took selfies with them. The man is wallowing in his Christian nationalist influencer status. What’s disturbing, he may very well win his case with 5 ultra conservative judges on the Supreme Court. The Hill article and its links are helpful to call out the facts of this SCOTUS case. https://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/3478324-originalism-and-the-football-coachs-prayer/
The following is just one reason why I am a non-believer.
Let’s look at animals, supposedly God’s creatures too…
The suffering of animals in a world created by an omniscient, all-loving god does not make sense.
If man was sinful, why would animals be punished and suffer as they do? Is this just? Is this moral?
Is this another extension of the sins of the father? For animals, suffering has no value, no reason,
no salvation, no eternal life, and is simply cruel.
How can one worship a being who created ubiquitous unnecessary suffering?
Does no one find it ironic that we have a high school nearby named to honor a Christian mass murderer, Pedro Melendez, whose victims were also Christian? What if Russian Orthodox Christians were to commence killing Ukrainian Orthodox Christian? Oh, wait….
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law “In God We Trust” in 1955 to be added to U.S. currency. He also added one nation “under God” in 1954 to the Pledge of Allegiance. This was to separate us from “Godless communists.”
Meanwhile, I wager that supposed Christians are good with Santa Claus being the center of attention on Christmas, as well as the Easter Bunny is on Easter. I firmly, wholeheartedly believe that if Jesus came to Earth today, his supposed followers would crucify him again as soon as he tried to teach them tolerance.
Coach Kennedy was, as school kids would call it, showing off. Ego, ego, ego, nothing more.
Can his ass.
As usual, I couldn’t agree more!
Organized religion is nothing more than a set of stories/mythology (the Bible) written by men to tame/civilize the masses, to justify/consolidate their power and control, and to justify their “holy wars.”
Savage wars which saw hundreds of thousands of innocent people executed for simply being “non-believers”. The “holier than thou” Christians head the list when it comes to such atrocities during the “Crusades”, the “Inquisition” and, the “Genocide” of the Native Americans, and on and on: