FFRF steps in after 47 members of Congress back coach-led prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has responded to a Tuesday letter from 47 members of Congress who are claiming “concern over reports that the Bremerton (Wash.) School District views Coach Joseph Kennedy’s tradition of quietly praying at the fifty yard line after the conclusion of school football games as unlawful.”

Of the 47 signatories, all are Republican, 28 of them are members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and three are U.S. senators. The letter was sent to Bremerton Superintendent Aaron Leavell and Bremerton High School Principal John Polm. The Bremerton School District had previously told Kennedy that his post-game prayers would no longer be allowed.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on Wednesday responded to the congressional letter by sending a letter to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and U.S. Sen. James Lankford, co-chairs of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, pointing out the legal errors in their letter defending Kennedy and coach-led prayer.

“The Prayer Caucus’s letter is misleading and fundamentally misunderstands the law,” Seidel writes. “Several other federal courts have examined this precise issue and all have come down on the side of students’ right to an education free from proselytizing and not on the side of a predatory adult seeking to use a position of power to impose their religion on other people’s children.”

Kennedy planned to defy the order by the school district, and is now being represented by Liberty Institute, a Christian Right group based in Texas. In a letter to the district, Liberty Institute claims that the post-game prayers are “private religious expression” and has announced plans to sue the district if Kennedy is not allowed to continue the prayers.

On Oct. 15, FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler sent a letter to Bremerton Superintendent Leavell reiterating the law.

“Despite the Liberty Institute’s letter, it is in fact unconstitutional for public school athletic coaches to lead students in prayer and to conduct any religious activity around their students,” Ziegler said. “A reasonable observer would certainly see Kennedy as a representative of the school even immediately after the football game, and the District thus has a duty to prohibit his continued promotion of religion while he is on school property.”

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 23,000 members, including more than 1,000 members in Washington.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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