He said in a statement prayers can put students in awkward positions, and ceremonies of such could open the district up to a lawsuit.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn declared his support for the Bremerton School District as it mulls the employment of Joe Kennedy, an assistant coach who put his job at risk earlier this month by praying after a football game, in violation of district orders.
The district is reviewing Kennedy’s job status after he defied its orders and prayed at the field’s 50-yard line on Oct. 16. The conservative Texas-based Liberty Institute is backing the coach, claiming that in banning prayer, the district is violating Kennedy’s First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Dorn in a statement Friday said he supports the district and all others across the state that encounter tough questions on religious expression in schools.
“School officials are role models; leading a prayer might put a student in an awkward position, even if the prayer is voluntary,” the statement read. “What’s more, that official could open the district up to a lawsuit.”
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Bremerton School District claims the post-game tradition violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which precludes the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The clause also forbids the government from favoring one religion over another.
Kennedy has held the midfield ritual after every game since seeing the evangelical film “Facing the Giants,” which is about a faith-challenged high-school football coach. He started doing it solo in 2008, then it grew to include players, fans and other coaches, according to a letter from the Liberty Institute to district officials.
Kennedy’s employment status as of Monday remained unchanged. District officials say they’re working with his representatives and reviewing the coach’s decision to pray on Oct. 16.
Mike Berry, senior counsel with Liberty Institute, said pending the district’s decision on the coach’s employment status and whether it allows the praying to continue, his organization is prepared to file a lawsuit.
“[Kennedy is] hopeful that this can be resolved quickly and reasonably,” Berry said.