Foothill Technology High School

Opinion: Praying on the field- the line between church and state should not be obscured

Opinion writer William Flannery writes that the separation of church and state trumps the freedom of religion in the case of praying on the field. Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press

In the interest of ensuring that our government is not respecting a religion in particular, thus not breaching the freedom to exercise any religion freely, the separation of church and state was embedded into the U.S. Constitution.

This aspect of our nation has been brought into dispute with the suspension of Bremerton High School assistant coach Joe Kennedy, due to his tradition of praying on the field after games. Despite requests to halt these actions from the school district, Kennedy had continued to show his unswerving practice. Many have claimed that this expression is inconsequential and that reprimanding Kennedy is unnecessary. However, this proves that we fail to remember that the distinction between church and state must be enforced in all scenarios, even those that seem harmless.

The common argument against Kennedy’s suspension is his apparent disunity with the school during his prayers. According to the Seattle Times, Kennedy would pray after games and the controversial inclusion of the football team in the prayers were voluntary decisions made by the players. It would seem that Kennedy had not violated school policy.

However, as stated by uscourts.gov.,the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment “protects citizens’ right to practice their religion as they please, so long as the practice does not run afoul of a ‘public morals’ or a ‘compelling’ governmental interest.” It should be noted that, while Kennedy’s intentions are noble and unifying, he does represent the Bremerton School District until players have changed out of their uniforms and are with their parents. By praying publicly, the district could be held accountable for conflicting the separation of church and state, especially on moral grounds.

The district is concerned with the public’s perception, and while this may seem ridiculous to some, it is entirely justifiable. They endeavor to provide a learning environment that does not canonize a specific religion, and these public prayers can arouse a contradictory lens. Yet, our society has become prone to favor the aspect of religious freedom and ignore its effect on our government systems.

Observe the misconception that Kennedy’s rights are being revoked by the district. This fallacious argument is based on the idea protecting religious practice, yet his rights were never infringed. An easy analogy to comprehend is the freedom of speech in which an individual can verbally express themselves freely, with one of the exceptions being a true threat, such as mentioning explosives in an airport. There are limits to our expression to guarantee the freedom of all, and the prayers conducted during district time can infringe on public morals.

A retort to this is that the expression of religion is exhibited in a myriad of cultural mediums such as television, however the message and the medium are within a relationship where the latter affects the perception of the former: a show that details a prayer is different from a public educational system doing so.

A response to the prayers being conducted on the sidelines is that self-confidence is being exemplified, yet this confidence is being ornately displayed and being translated to the district. It is evident that these arguments all display the pattern of taking the side of religious freedom, and as a nation that stands on the government not interfering with religious expression, our society must look past protecting this right to ensure that religion does not interfere with government.

This event has proven that we are so tenacious with our theological freedom that we will, ironically, oversee the distinct line that divides church from state, a system that prevents a primary indoctrination of depriving us from the religious freedom we value. Thus, we must take situations such as Kennedy’s and observe it through a lens of both state and church, for small mistakes can accumulate and we cannot allow such a misjudgment to occur.