Though Christians here in the U.S. aren’t victimized as are those elsewhere, there does seem to be an increased hostility and intolerance to basic Christian beliefs and teachings. For a large part, it has now become permissible in our society to mock or ridicule religion in general and Christianity in particular. Irreverence is seen daily in our liberal media, where much TV programming will somehow make jokes about Christian values. We have numerous cases in our nation where these values have come under attack. One such case that I am following with interest is the Joe Kennedy situation.
Mr. Kennedy is a former football coach at the Bremerton School in the state of Washington. He was first placed on leave, then the district chose not to renew his contract. He firmly believes his ultimate dismissal was because he prayed after each high school football game. Following the games he would go to the center of the field and “take a knee” and pray. Initially, Coach Kennedy prayed alone. Seeing his example, and having respect for their coach, players voluntarily asked to join him. Coach Kennedy’s after-game prayers were short and were never for the purpose of proselytizing young players. This is an example of one of his prayers: “Lord, I thank you for these kids and the blessing you have given me with them. We believe in the game, we believe in competition, and we can come into the game as rivals and leave as brothers.”
Prior to his dismissal, Coach Kennedy was instructed that he could only pray in a private area where he could not be seen by players, students, parents, or other patrons of the district. Furthermore, he was told that any conversations with students could not include religious expressions and “must remain entirely secular in nature.” Admittedly, the school district officials stated not a single person in the community had complained about Coach Kennedy’s post-game prayers. Consequently, Coach Kennedy continued this practice, reasoning that he was well within his constitutional rights for freedom of speech and religion.
Following his dismissal, Mr. Kennedy filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming his removal was due to religious discrimination. He is being represented by the group Liberty Institute. They claim the school’s actions violated Kennedy’s First Amendment rights and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an act that forbids religious discrimination in the work place. Unfortunately, the Kennedy case is not an isolated incident but is only a small part of a much larger ongoing legal debate concerning one’s constitutional freedom to exercise his or her religious belief.
When getting down to the nuts and bolts of the religious discrimination issue, whether you are a cake-baker, a photographer, a florist, or a high school football coach, you may find you are one of many people across our nation, in effect, being told by the government that your religious liberty stops when you leave your house of worship. A growing number of Christians fear that government will require them to make a choice between obeying the laws of the land or following their religious faith. Consequently, this has put religious liberty on a collision course with some groups, such as the LBGT community, and why prior to 2015, twenty-one state governments enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Legislation concerning an individual’s free exercise of religion. After the historic 2014 Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby decision, in 2015 sixteen states proposed expanding religious freedom legislation, though only two states were successful in passing it. Others, including Missouri, filed similar legislation in 2016. Our state’s legislation failed to pass it out of a committee in the Missouri House.
Mr. Kennedy stated that he is only seeking the ability to go back and to help young men. For twenty years he served as a U.S. Marine who fought for and protected the Constitution. Now he wants that Constitution to protect him. He adds, “Our goal has always been to build our kids up and send the right message about what the sport is really about, which is making better men out of them.”
Since Mr. Kennedy’s removal from the football field and the school campus, it is reported that another assistant football coach has challenged the school district with a Buddhist chant near midfield following football games. So far the district has not issued any ruling.
Striving to be politically correct certainly can have its challenges.