Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Praying Coach Quit After One Game

Maybe Joseph Kennedy's fifteen minutes are just up.

Who is this guy again? Let's recap the case that made him famous.

Joseph Kennedy is the assistant football coach at Bremerton who decided to take his performative christianism all the way to the Supreme Court, where the conservatives eager to further the destruction of the wall between church and state issued a decision that rested on a legal technique known as Making Shit Up. 

Justice Gorsuch wrote this one, and he's in an alternate reality in the very first paragraph.

Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks.

Nope. Joseph Kennedy decided not to put in for the job for another season. Instead, he headed out on the celebrity martyr circuit. Nor was it a quiet prayer pf thanks.

Mr. Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters.

This line of reasoning was followed throughout. If you're on the clock, but can get away with dividing your attention, that counts as personal time.

Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment.

It's such a mischaracterization of the facts of the case one has to wonder, if Gorsuch is correct, how such a case could have been decided so incorrectly by lower courts. But Justice Sotomayor in her dissent at least records the actual facts, so at least they're on record somewhere.

Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Court now charts a different path, yet again paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.

To the degree the Court portrays petitioner Joseph Kennedy’s prayers as private and quiet, it misconstrues the facts.

Also, after noting that the majority just threw out the Lemon test, she writes

In addition, while the Court reaffirms that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing participation in religious exercise, it applies a nearly toothless version of the coercion analysis, failing to acknowledge the unique pressures faced by students when participating in school-sponsored activities. This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state. I respectfully dissent.

The dissent uses pages to lay out the many details of how Kennedy was not quiet or brief, including his invitations to opposing teams to join in, and that very special time where he went out and led a student prayer right in front of the administrator who has just asked him not to. Why the District didn't just fire him for insubordination I do not know.

SCOTUS ordered Bremerton to rehire Kennedy for the job that he had never re-applied for and then--twist #1

Twist #1

Last fall the school sent out reinstatement papers. He didn't return them, because he was busy with other stuff. Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times tracked Kennedy's busy schedule. 

Instead, as the Bremerton Knights were prepping for the season in August, Kennedy was up in Alaska, meeting with former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. On the eve of the first game, which the Knights won, Kennedy was in Milwaukee being presented with an engraved .22-caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.

The weekend of the second game, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. He saw Trump get a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.

Coming up this month, Kennedy’s scheduled to give a talk as part of a lectureship series at a Christian university in Arkansas.

“Place a PR/Publicity Request,” invites his personal website, where he’s known as Coach Joe.

It’s an increasingly surreal situation for the Bremerton schools. They were ordered to “reinstate Coach Kennedy to a football coaching position,” according to court documents. But the now-famous coach is out on the conservative celebrity circuit, continuing to tell a story about “the prayer that got me fired” — even though Bremerton never actually fired him.

And now, Twist #2

But for the fall of 2023, Kennedy was back on the football staff. The school district had created some rules to allow for staff prayers under certain conditions (it has to be hard to set policy when the Supreme Court dings you for things that didn't actually happen). They played their first game of the season, and won. Then Kennedy took his photo op prayerful knee on the field, by himself this time. Was he happy to be back coaching football? 

Tonight was the milestone and where we wanted to get to. We fought eight years. What we asked for from the Supreme Court and all the courts was just to be able to be a coach and be able to pray after a football game.

So, football shmootball.

And then he quit. 

Not a huge shock, as he had apparently done what he came to do. And he's been living in Florida for the last three years. The firm that represented the school district was also unsurprised:

For years, Kennedy and his lawyers have said all he wanted was his job back. We were skeptical. And now, here we are, right where we warned the Supreme Court we would be.

His resignation letter is reportedly more in keeping with his victim stance. Reported Nina Shapiro at the Seattle Times:

In a resignation letter obtained by The Seattle Times, Kennedy said, “It is apparent that the reinstatement ordered by the Supreme Court will not be fully followed after a series of actions meant to diminish my role and single me out in what I can only believe is retaliation by the school district.”

He gave no indication of such feelings in an interview last week and declined to go into details Wednesday. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a picnic and it wasn’t,” he said, adding that his “role and responsibilities” at Friday’s game were “not what I signed up for.”

Like any other humble high school assistant football coach, he had his PR firm issue a statement.

“I believe I can best continue to advocate for constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system so that is what I will do. I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case. As a result of our case, we all have more freedom, not less. That should be celebrated and not disrespected,” said Kennedy.

“As I have demonstrated, we must make a stand for what we believe in. In my case, I made a stand to take a knee. I encourage all Americans to make their own stand for freedom and our right to express our faith as we see fit. I appreciate the people of Bremerton, the coaches, staff and especially the students and wish them all well. Bremerton will always be home,” he concluded.

Also, he's got a book (written "with" Stephanie Katz). And a movie in pre-production. And on his website you can book him for appearances. 

At the top of the website is the quote "No American should be forced to choose between their faith and the job they love," but I guess Americans should be willing to dump the job if they've got a better shot at fame and fortune. 

What a testimony!

If I seem to be mocking Kennedy's faith, it's only because he's made a mockery out of mine. I realize this is low-hanging obvious fruit, but I'm going to pull out Matthew 6:5 here--this is Jesus, giving instructions about praying

“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."

Then a few verses later he lays out The Lord's Prayer. Nowhere in scripture have I ever read, "When you pray, make it a big public circus that is all about you. Also, if you can exert any authority you have to coerce others into praying, that would be cool, too."

Schools are absolutely loaded with teachers who are people of faith and who manage to do their jobs and keep their faith and avoid pushing it on young humans in their charge, and they do all three things at the same time. Kennedy's showboating and the attendant SCOTUS flubbery simply encourages those teachers who can't stay away from the coercion part to go ahead and put religion where it doesn't belong.

Kennedy had a responsibility to his players. He failed at it when he used his position to promote his personal religion, and he failed at it again when he made the football team subordinate to his desire to be a big christianist celebrity. It is telling that no crowd rushed the field to join him in his performance; I expect that plenty of folks in Bremerton have long since figured out that Kennedy is filled with something other than the holy spirit. 

I have no way of knowing what kind of faith witness Kennedy thinks he's providing, but this is a lousy testimony, prideful and selfish and far more interested in politics than faith. It's one more reminder of that old saw-- when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. It's hard to imagine anyone looking at Kennedy's actions and thinking, "Yeah, I'm really feeling Christ's call now."

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