Sen. Lankford: School District Cannot Constitutionally Stop Coach From Praying on Field

Lauretta Brown | November 2, 2015 | 3:58pm EST
Font Size

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) (AP)

( – Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) took to the Senate floor last Thursday to defend the right of assistant football coach Joe Kennedy of Bremerton High School to pray on the field after games.

The Bremerton School District put Coach Kennedy on paid leave last week because he refused to stop silently praying after every game--with players voluntarily joining him--as he has for the past seven years.

"According to the attorneys at the school, he was dismissed from his duties because last Friday night at the football game, he had the audacity to kneel down at the end of the game and silently pray at the 50-yard line when the game was over, when the school had instructed him that he was not to silently pray at the end of a game," Lankford said on the Senate floor. 

"To his defense, this is not brand new," said Lankford. "Since 2008, this same coach, at the end of the games--each game--has had the habit of kneeling and praying at the 50-yard line after the kids have gone, after the game is over, to thank God for the safety of his kids."

“But for some reason the Bremerton School District has determined this is completely unacceptable," said the sentor. "Their perspective is that you can only have faith if no one sees it. They have literally set a new standard."

"They are saying that if you are a school official, no one can see that you have faith because if anyone sees that you have faith, they will take that as the establishment of religion from the school district," said Lankford. "That is a standard no court in America has set.

"That would mean any individual who is Jewish couldn’t wear a yarmulke if they were also a teacher," the senator said. "That would mean anyone who is Muslim couldn’t wear a head scarf because clearly that is a visual display of faith. That would mean no teacher could bow their head and pray before their meal in the school lunchroom. That would mean no football coach could kneel down with 5 seconds to go in the game in, the fourth quarter, before their 16-year-old is about to kick a field goal. They would say: No, you can’t kneel down and pray on the sidelines."

Sen. Lankford stressed that the coach was not compelling anyone to join him.

"This is not a situation where the coach was coercing his players to participate in a prayer or proselytizing his players while he was on school time," he said. "He was simply kneeling down to pray, and for whatever strange reason the school district has put him on paid administrative leave and has started the process of firing the coach."

The senator then noted that the U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion--not the mere freedom to "worship" in some assigned space.

"May I remind Americans that we do not have freedom of worship in America; we have the free exercise of religion in America," he said. "The government does not have the authority to confine your faith to the location of the government’s choosing. A government entity like a school district cannot say to an employee: You can only live your faith over there, where we pick. I don’t know what the school district is going to do in the days ahead, but I know what Americans of all faiths and people of no faith should do. They should rise up and say: We are a nation that protects the free exercise of religion.

"And people who disagree with that coach should rise up in the same way with people who agree because I can assure you—if they will silence a the 50-yard line, I can assure you they will be after every other faith in the country and say: You can only practice your faith in the place of the government’s choosing," said Lankford. "That is not who we are.

"Coach Joe Kennedy has the right to pray anywhere he wants to pray as long as it doesn’t interrupt his school responsibilities," the senator said.

High School football coach Joe

Kennedy.  (AP)

Sen. Lankford and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) led 47 other members of Congress Tuesday in sending a letter in support of Coach Kennedy’s actions to the Bremerton School District’s Superintendent and the Bremerton High School Principal.

The letter argued that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution “exists to ensure that the government cannot affirmatively impose or elevate one religion over another but “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.

“Rather, the Establishment Clause ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion, and that the government does not take away an individual’s ability to exercise religion.”

mrc merch