What a world we live in.
Joe Kennedy, a retired Marine and high school football coach from Bremerton, has been suspended from his job because he refused to stop saying a short prayer on the fifty-yard line after football games.
The problem was not that he prayed, but that he prayed in a place where he could be seen by other people.
In a letter, the school district explained that they may not “indirectly encourage students to engage in religious activity (or discourage them from doing so)”.
They further explained that the coach’s behavior was illegal because he was “a District employee, on the field only by virtue of his employment with the District, still on duty, under the bright lights of the stadium, engaged in what was clearly, given your prior conduct, overtly religious conduct.”
As a result the Superintendent concluded that “a court would almost certainly find that behavior to “constitute District endorsement of religion in violation of the United States Constitution.”
So you’re telling me the Founding Father’s risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors to make sure no coach ever said a short prayer on the fifty-yard line after a football game?
I can just imagine George Washington’s prayer, on one knee, in the snow of Valley Forge.
“Dear God, though I feel guilty for being in prayer while in uniform and on duty, especially in light of the fact that I am close enough to my troops that I might be observed by them and thereby subject them to a micro-aggression, please give us success in our quest for independence. Otherwise, how will we protect future generations of children from the sight of a man in prayer?”
The school district is arguing that if a student sees or hears a school district employee doing something, they immediately assume that teacher is speaking on behalf of the entire school district.
By this logic, a student who sees a teacher with a cross, yarmulke, or hijab while at work assumes the school district is promoting Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. No one thinks that.
Heaven help the 49er fans in Seattle schools.
We all agree that a primary purpose of education is to wrestle with ideas different than our own, but we apparently feel compelled to protect them from the people who hold those beliefs.
Of course the impulse to protect students from ideas that offend them is a one way street. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students are forced to sit through progressive propaganda about marriage, gender, and sexuality starting in kindergarten.
No one cares if they’re offended.
And really, what’s more coercive, a one-hour lecture on how beautiful it is that Timmy has seven daddies or the sight of a man on one knee?
Which begs the question, what if the coach doesn’t actually pray when he bows? What if he quietly recites the Gettysburg Address instead? Is he still fired?
It’s a silly question because the entire inquiry is silly.
Regardless, otherwise intelligent adults take this conversation seriously because, while they were in school, they learned to see themselves and everyone around them as victims. Now they are running a school system that is engineered to raise the next generation of victims.
Instead of a school system training courageous leaders who are prepared to navigate the always turbulent waters of the real world; instead of training young people who will stand for their convictions and respect the convictions of others because freedom is awesome…we are training little orchids.
“Oh, that idea offends you? Ok, we’ll punish them for expressing it.”
“Oh, you’re uncomfortable being the only person in the room who shares your belief? Ok, we’ll create a free speech zone to make sure can avoid being exposed to ideas you disagree with.”
Soon, no challenge will be so small that it cannot crush us.
Just this week, a coalition of seventy-two groups asked the federal government to require colleges to monitor social media in order to protect students from threatening and offensive comments online.
Nothing says, “preparing college students for the real world” like an initiative to protect them from words they don’t like.
Of course we want to continually pursue kindness and encourage others to do the same. Still, in an imperfect world, we can either yell at the clouds for giving us rain or grab an umbrella. Lots of us are still yelling at the clouds.
I received a phone call this week from a chaplain who works in retirement facilities for veterans. The facilities have recently adopted a new policy to screen out cards and greetings sent to the veterans that contain “religious messages.”
These veterans may have risked their lives in combat, but the government is doing its best to protect them from Veteran’s Day cards that say “God Bless”.
The situation with coach Joe Kennedy is a problem, but it is also the symptom of a problem. We are now a country with so little chutzpah that we take seriously the idea that someone might be offended by the sight of a man bowed in prayer…unless, of course, he was simply reciting the Gettysburg Address on one knee.
In that case, there’s nothing to worry about, little orchid.
Follow Joseph Backholm on Twitter @josephbackholm