The school district put the praying coach on leave ahead of an invocation to be delivered tonight by Satanists.
Assistant Coach Joe Kennedy of the Bremerton High School, who holds prayers at the end of football games, has been placed on paid leave, according to a statement on Wednesday.
Kennedy had been warned against doing so by the Bremerton School District, which says it is a direct violation of school policy that forbids encouraging or discouraging students taking part in religious activity, or engaging in actions that endorse or oppose any religious activity or religion.
Kennedy's lawyers, the Liberty Institute, says this is a violation of the Civil Rights Act, under which employees cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion. They maintain that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affords him the legal right to pray, which also applies to students or anyone who wishes to join him at the 50-yard line, which is where he prays on the field.
This has caught the attention of the Satanists, who plan to come and hold a Satanic Invocation at the same premises following the game if any staff member of the school or student asks them to do so, unless the Bremerton School District bans Joe Kennedy from praying. This was conveyed in a Facebook post by Lilith Starr, the Chapter Head at the Satanic Temple of Seattle.
Coach Kennedy has been doing so since 2008, and no students are ever forced to pray. The latest imbroglio, has caught the attention of several Congressmen. 47 of whom have signed a letter to Aaron Leavell, the Superintendent of the Bremerton School District, and John Polm, Principal of the Bremerton High School. Those who have shown their support in public this way include Randy Forbes of Virginia and Dan Newhouse of Washington, both members of the House of Representatives, and Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. The letter mentions that the Supreme Court has allowed a brief prayer prior to the commencement of a legislative session, and this is followed both in the U.S. Senate as well as the House of Representatives.
— The Satanic Temple (@satanicpsalms) October 27, 2015
Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has thrown his weight behind the Bremerton School District, which has told the football coach that he could pray in private, but not in the presence of his players. Any more 'violations' could result him getting fired, but that doesn't seem to have deterred Joe Kennedy. The next game is scheduled for tonight, and Coach Kennedy has asked everyone to come and show their support for the Knights, Bremerton High School's football team, which play the Wolves from Sequim High School.
A student has in fact requested The Satanic Temple Seattle Chapter to give an invocation according to an email and details from Lilith Starr, head of the Satanic Temple of Seattle, as reported by The Friendly Atheist.
At Student’s Request, Satanists Plan Invocation at Bremerton High School Alongside Christian Coach https://t.co/v8TA0i1zIu
— Hemant Mehta (@hemantmehta) October 28, 2015
Class of 2016 President Abe Bartlett also decided to speak up and invite the Satanic Temple of Seattle to tonight’s game, in an effort to get the school to address the issue of religious displays.
“The main reason I did it is to portray to the school district that I think we should either have a policy that we’re not going to have any religious affiliation or public religious practices, or they should say people are going to be allowed to practice their religion publicly whatever their beliefs,” said Bartlett, 17.
“They need to either go black or white,” he said. “I don’t think this controversial middle ground is what our school needs.”