Bremerton School District in Washington state has created a “faith-free zone,” according to Sen. James Lankford.
Lankford was referring to the school district’s decision to suspend high school football coach Joe Kennedy for his post-game prayers on the 50-yard line.
“Government does not have the authority to confine your faith to the location of government’s choosing,” Lankford, R-Okla., stated Thursday on the Senate floor.
“He [Kennedy] was simply kneeling down to pray.”
Earlier this week, Kennedy continued his seven-year post-game prayer tradition, despite the school district’s threats to punish, and possibly fire, him if he did so. He was put on paid administrative leave Wednesday.
“This is an individual after the game is over, kneeling down on his own, freely expressing his faith without requiring anyone else to be there, anyone to listen,” said Lankford, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. “This is an individual living their faith.”
The school district had offered Kennedy pray in private locations. “They gave me a couple different things: ‘You could go hide in the press box or we could give you a room somewhere where no one can see you,’ like I should be ashamed of my faith and I should have to hide it,” Kennedy said Friday morning on ‘Fox & Friends.’
“That sounds very discriminative … that I have to hide who I am and what my beliefs are,” Kennedy added.
According to Lankford, everyone has the Constitutional right to exercise their religion and a school district cannot pick where employees live out their faith.
“[Bremerton School District is] saying if you’re a school official no one can see that you have faith because if anyone sees that you have faith, they’ll take that as the establishment of religion from the school district,” Lankford said. “That is a standard no court in America has set.”
“That would mean any individual that’s Jewish couldn’t wear a yarmulke, if they’re a teacher. It means that anyone that’s Muslim couldn’t wear a head scarf. Because clearly that’s a visual display of faith. That would mean no teacher could bow their head and pray before their meal at the school lunchroom.”
“The absurdity of this is to set this brand new standard that says you cannot have anyone see you have faith would mean that in this situation, this district has created a new legal standard that no one else has ever agreed to,” Lankford said.
Lankford and other members of Congress sent a letter this week to Bremerton School District officials in defense of Coach Kennedy.