BREMERTON, Wash. — Members of the Satanic Temple of Seattle were met with chants of “Jesus” by students and others after they were spotted last night outside of a football game where they had sought to pray on field.
The move was in response to the controversy over Bremerton High School Coach Joe Kennedy, who prayed at the 50-yard line last Friday despite instructions from the school district that he could not allow students to join him in his personal prayers.
According to reports, several students had asked members of the Satanic Temple, who are actually believed to be atheists and agnostics, to attend Thursday’s game. The group had asked the district for permission to pray on field in order to make a point about Kennedy’s prayers, but backed off after it was announced that the coach had been placed on leave until he agrees to discontinue his practice of praying on field at the conclusion of games.
The Bremerton Patriot reports that over a dozen black-robed Satanic Temple members—and one donning horns on her head—appeared outside the fence during the game, generating mixed reaction from attendees. Some climbed the fence and began chanting the name of Jesus. One student called out, “May I take a moment of your time to speak about Jesus Christ?”
When a reporter asked if Temple members were going to take the field, chapter head Lilith Starr replied with a laugh, “No, sorry. We’re pacifists.”
Coach Kennedy attended the game, but remained in the stands. He prayed with couple Randy and Sharlene Davis, who were present as a show of support.
“I support what the coach is doing,” Randy Davis told the Bremerton Patriot. “This country was founded on religious freedom … I support his right to worship as he chooses.”
As previously reported, on Wednesday night, the Bremerton School District released a four-page letter outlining that Kennedy had been placed on paid leave over his ongoing prayer practice.
“Kennedy’s conduct poses a genuine risk that the district will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others,” it stated. “For this reason, Kennedy will not be allowed to further violate the district’s directives.”
The letter said that Kennedy will not be allowed to serve as coach until he agrees to stop praying on the field. The district had presented Kennedy with the option of praying inside of the stadium in a place where none would see him, but he declined.
“[L]ike I should be ashamed of my faith and like I should have to hide it,” Kennedy told Fox and Friends on Friday.
The Liberty Institute, which is providing free legal representation for the coach, believes that Kennedy’s religious rights are being violated.
“No reasonable observer could conclude that a football coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the field and then walks to mid-field to say a short, private, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state,” the group wrote in a letter to the district.
“Quite the opposite, Coach Kennedy is engaged in private religious expression upon which the state may not infringe,” it said. “In fact, any attempt by Bremerton School District to ban or prohibit Coach Kennedy—or any private citizen—from praying violates the First Amendment.”
While the Bremerton School District placed Kennedy on leave out of concern that it could be leveled with a lawsuit if the prayers continued, the Liberty Institute says that it is considering filing a suit against the district for restricting Kennedy’s religious expression.
“The school district violated federal law by denying Coach Kennedy’s request for religious accommodation. Their violation of the law cannot go unanswered,” said Senior Counsel Mike Berry. “We are committed to protecting Coach Kennedy’s right to religious freedom.”