The Bremerton coach’s public prayer adds to a long list of debates over government’s interaction with religion.
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy’s midfield prayer ritual — and a response from Seattle’s Satanic Temple — has stirred up fresh debate over religious expression and what governments in Washington should sanction or allow.
Compared with the rest of the country, we’re about 10 percent less religious in Washington, according to the Pew Research Center. About two-thirds of Washingtonians ascribe to a faith, the center says; the remainder are unaffiliated, atheist or agnostic.
Perhaps that’s one reason controversies about the role of government in religious life seem to crop up here every few years.
In December 2006, Seattle became a central figure in the “war on Christmas,” as it was called by conservative figureheads.
After a rabbi insisted an electric menorah be displayed alongside Christmas decorations at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Port of Seattle officials decided to remove its Christmas tree displays.
Port officials said the rabbi had threatened a lawsuit, which forced them to pull down the decorations. People lashed out at the rabbi, who said he never intended for the decorations’ removal. His lawyer said he received death threats.
Also in 2006, an Olympia real-estate agent sued the state because it did not allow a nativity scene to be placed alongside a “holiday tree” at the state Capitol.
The state settled the suit and a nativity scene went up the following year.
The controversy continued in 2008, when atheists and agnostics placed a sign in the state Capitol that read: “Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
The sign was stolen a few days later, and the thief turned it into a country-music radio station.
About a week later, Westboro Baptist Church applied for permission to post a sign at the Capitol that read, “Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell.”
A flurry of incendiary requests eventually prompted an overwhelmed Department of General Administration to declare a moratorium on displays in the Capitol building. The agency later decided to limit religious displays to state property outdoors.
Of course, Christmas isn’t the only time that religious and state interests come into conflict.
In 2013, some Tukwila residents raised concerns about women-only swim times offered at a city pool. The swim times were meant to accommodate some women’s body-image concerns and others’ religious beliefs, among other concerns.
The state Human Rights Commission tossed out a complaint that the pool discriminated by gender, because it also offered male-only swim times.
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The same year, a Richland florist refused to provide floral arrangements for a wedding between gay customers. She said her relationship with Jesus Christ prevented her from serving the customers.
The state attorney general sued the florist, arguing the florist violated state consumer-protection and anti-discrimination laws.
Earlier this year, the state won the case, but the florist rejected its settlement offer.