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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Praise Allah and pass the hypocrisy at the 50-yard line

    Attention, high school football coaches: It is time to praise Allah.

    It is time to read from the Torah.

    It is time to call on Buddhists to meditate right there on the 50-yard line.

    Separation of church and state, you say?

    No longer.

    The Highest Court In The Land just extended all of us the invitation.

    The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Joseph Kennedy, a former Washington state high school football coach, had a right to pray on the field immediately after games during his tenure. Kennedy claimed the Bremerton School District violated his religious freedom by telling him he couldn’t pray so publicly after the games, and according to NBC.com, the school system “tried to avoid the appearance that the school was endorsing a religious point of view.”

    “Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

    A more cynical fellow might read the words “mutual respect and tolerance” and roll over in perverse laughter, given the court’s recent foibles. But what if we took the Supreme Court at its word?

    “People who support this decision undoubtedly would have no problem with a coach who leads his players in a postgame bow to Mecca, right?” tweeted Barth Keck, an English teacher, assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth and columnist for CT News Junkie. 

    Straight up: Advocates must forfeit any moral outrage and quell their apocalyptic howls. This is about unconditional religious expression. The Supreme Court just subjected all players, coaches and other bystanders to practice “mutual respect and tolerance” of all public displays of religious observation. 

    To wit: 

    All coaches of the Muslim faith are encouraged to mimic Mr. Kennedy. They may quote from the Koran and praise Allah — complete with prayer rugs at the 50-yard line — and make it clear to the players that all those who fail to participate may or may not play in the next game. 

    That’s what the Supreme Court just allowed. 

    All coaches of the Jewish faith may quote from the Torah, praise Yahweh and ask their players to commit Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to memory. Or risk not playing the next game. 

    That’s what the Supreme Court just allowed. 

    Buddhists may meditate and take refuge in the Dharma and the Sangha. Any objections may result in reduced playing time. 

    That’s what the Supreme Court just allowed. 

    And what would any religious proceedings be without Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran and Hindu viewpoints as well? 

    That’s what the Supreme Court just allowed. 

    Make no mistake here: Nobody in the Bremerton School District told Mr. Kennedy he couldn’t pray. They simply asked he not do it demonstratively. Mr. Kennedy thumbed his nose, played the victim and got six robotic arbiters-turned-political pundits to acquiesce.

    “One issue in the case was whether the coach’s decision to pray in such a prominent place, on the 50-yard line, amounted to a private moment of giving thanks or a public demonstration of his religious faith that his players may have felt compelled to join,” NBC.com reported.

    “Kennedy urged the Supreme Court to find that he was acting on his own behalf, expressing his own religious views, not speaking as a mouthpiece for the school. But the school district said the students on the football team looked up to their coach and felt coerced into doing as he did.”

    Note the word “coerced.”

    Gorsuch wrote that “Kennedy lost his job after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer.” He’d have a case if that were true.

    “To the degree the Court portrays petitioner Joseph Kennedy’s prayers as private and quiet, it misconstrues the facts,” Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote. “The record reveals that Kennedy had a longstanding practice of conducting demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field. Kennedy consistently invited others to join his prayers and for years led student athletes in prayer at the same time and location. The Court ignores this history. The Court also ignores the severe disruption to school events caused by Kennedy’s conduct.”

    Per other published reports, the school district told Mr. Kennedy he should find a private location to pray. He declined and later began to pray at the 50-yard line, inviting journalists and a state legislator to watch. He did not apply to renew his contract after the 2015 football season, after the district gave him a poor performance evaluation. Mr. Kennedy sued, claiming violations of his right to free expression and religious freedom.

    Once again: If this were truly about prayer, Mr. Kennedy would have found a different location. But this was about grandstanding. Nobody denied Mr. Kennedy private religious expression. He forced students to choose between their religious freedom and being part of the team. There is no disputing that, based on numerous news articles over the last 10 years chronicling Mr. Kennedy’s behaviors and the opinions of former players.

    And the Supreme Court just caved, even after lower federal courts ruled that his decision to pray in prominent places as a public employee denied him the protection of the First Amendment. Previous Supreme Court rulings said “when public employees act in their official capacities, they are speaking more for the government than for themselves.”

    But that’s when the Supreme Court’s function was to act as guardians and interpreters of the Constitution. Now it has become an echo chamber.

    “(Monday’s) decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” Sotomayor wrote. “In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”

    So what’s it going to be, kids? Pray and be part of the team or resist and sit the bench?

    Calling all Muslims. Hebrews. Buddhists. Hindus. Catholics. Baptists. All of you. It’s time to hold the Supreme Court to its word.

    Meanwhile, words I hold more dear these days come from a wise man Tuesday on social media: “If the United States saw what the United States is doing in the United States, the United States would invade the United States to liberate the United States from the tyranny of the United States.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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