Prayer's place in U.S. football gets high school test

Sat Nov 14, 2015 12:09pm EST
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By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Carrying out what he called a personal act of faith, high-school football coach Joe Kennedy walked out to the 50-yard-line after a recent game, knelt down and prayed.

For that post-game ritual, the Bremerton, Washington, district superintendent suspended Kennedy with pay in late October and is debating whether to renew his contract, which ends in December.

The district's crackdown marks the latest high-profile injunction against prayer at football games in the United States, where Christian observances continue unabated in many public school sports arenas, despite court rulings limiting school-sponsored religious ceremonies.

Kennedy has performed variations on his ritual regularly over the last eight years as coach at the high school in Bremerton, a city of 40,000 about an hour's ferry ride from Seattle.

"It's my constitutional right to do this," he told Reuters, invoking the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment. "It's part of me, it's who I am. I am not going to hide my faith."

Neither the district nor Washington's high-school sports governing board would comment on the frequency of prayer by coaches at games in the state.

But activists say it is common in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

"We get more than one thousand complaints every year about prayer and other religious violations in public schools, and a substantial number of them are related to prayer associated with sports and coach-led prayer," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of advocacy group the Freedom From Religion Foundation.   Continued...

Oct 10, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) kneels in prayer before a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in this file photo from October 10, 2015.   Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports