Washington State Lawmaker Proposes Bill Allowing Coaches to Engage in Post-Game Prayer

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A lawmaker in Washington State has proposed a bill that would provide allowance to athletic coaches and others to pray at the end of a sporting event without obstruction or punishment.

Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, introduced H.B. 1602 last on Wednesday as a response to a situation involving a school district that fired a high school football coach in the midst of a battle over his desire to pray at the 50-yard line.

As previously reported, Joe Kennedy, the former assistant head coach for the varsity team at Bremerton High School and the head coach for the junior varsity team, was placed on paid administrative leave in October 2015 when he prayed at the conclusion of the homecoming game despite an order to cease his eight-year practice.

In December 2015, the former U.S. Marine turned football coach filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging workplace retaliation against his Christian expression in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s a really important issue for me because this is a covenant I made with God—before I even started coaching, that if I became a coach, what I would do is give You the glory on the 50 after every game,” Kennedy told reporters. “And it evolved to be with the kids.”

In August, his attorneys also filed a federal lawsuit challenging his treatment at the high school as his coaching contract was not renewed.

“The legislature finds that defending the fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion, recognized in and protected by both the state and federal Constitutions, is a compelling state interest of the highest order,” Young’s bill reads.

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It therefore prohibits school officials from thwarting or punishing those who seek to engage in religious activity at the conclusion of a sporting event. Those who do so will be subject to civil liability.

“Immediately after a school sports activity is completed or finished by the call of the appropriate referee or umpire indicating the official time for the event has expired, any grounds of the school open to the public after the school day has ended or on a weekend day, including an outdoor sports field, is a designated public forum,” the legislation reads in part.

The public forum will be considered a place “where all individuals, including school sports coaches, student team players, fans, parents and other family members, friends, supporters, and others, may safely assemble to talk with other individuals, including praying with one another, as in other public forums, without fear of prior restraint, discrimination, or censorship based on the content of their speech, or any civil or criminal liability for freely exercising such rights.”

Young told KIRO-TV that he believes his bill passes constitutional muster because it involves an activity that is conducted after a school event is over.

“No. 1, [the legislation] defines when a game ends and it gives school districts immunity for coaches to exercise their First Amendment rights after the game has ended. So from that standpoint, those are well within the constitutional boundaries,” he said.

Young also noted that the bill doesn’t endorse any certain religion or prayer, and doesn’t require anyone to be a participant.

“It simply says we’re going to protect the First Amendment rights of every individual and we’re going to give schools immunity for doing just that,” he said.

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  • Grace Kim Kwon

    USA is not a communist nation; Christians created the nation for Christians’ lasting happiness. Anyone should be able to pray to God publicly anywhere anyhow. It is wrong for the nation to restrict Christian prayers. Stuff belong to the creators forever. USA is a Christian nation created to spread Christianity. Those who dislike seeing the Christians pray should leave the USA and return to the places which they came from.

    • antifasciste

      Communist versus Christian, a bit of a false dichotomy. I came from the US, and value the Constitution not uninformed attempts at dogma.

      • Grace Kim Kwon

        Communists were/are atheists; that’s why they were/are so brutal. Protestant-protected USA has no idea about it because Western atheists oppress the people with immorality instead of nationalism. US constitution was made to protect Christians’ religious freedom. People should not be forced to support immorality. USA needs Christian virtues to be safe and do well. Secularism is only immoral and greedy. You must repent of your sins and return to God to get saved. Read John chapter 3.

        • RWH

          There is no evidence anywhere on any of America’s founding documents that place Christianity as a special class that has privileges that no other faith has. All faiths are to be treated equally.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            You are wrong. When the Westerners mention “God,” He is the God of the Holy Bible and no one else. All Westerners especially Americans had only Christianity as their religion; Western civilization was unequally superior only because it was a Bible-literate Christendom. Secular Westerners equate Christianity with other religions in recent decades only so that they could pursue abnormal sexual immorality and infanticide on Planet Earth. Amoral people have not many descendants; you guys are shaming your own white Christian ancestors. Secular Westerners hate God’s truth and despise human conscience. Stop that. Repent of your sins to get saved. Read John chapter 3.

          • RWH

            Every time I see one of your posts, my mind immediately goes to Evilra Bradshaw of the Beverly Hillbillies. She also had a lot of opinions, and it was obvious that she was very, very wrong. First of all, others besides “whites” were here from the very beginning, and they are very much a part of our culture, and they all made contributions. Secondly, a lot of the signers of the founding documents were Deists, and as such, they did not believe in the personal God of Christianity.

            There are people on this list who are not “white,” and as such, they should take offense at some of your statements, especially coming from someone who is not “white.” Secondly, one’s status before God, or as you put things simplistically as “saved,” do not depend on whether they agree with your deeply flawed views.

            Americans at large do not believe in such fascist ideas as to state that only some people count. All people in American society have value. This emphasis of yours on “white,” either points you out as hopelessly ignorant at best and a blatant racist at worst.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            I don’t want to be discriminated against by the Westerners for not-supporting the current Western culture of homosexuality. It is a battle for freedom not to submit to Western Sodomites. All whites of yesteryears were Christian; they knew no other God. Without the Holy Bible, the Western civilization could not have been great anyway.

            Pre-christian is illiteracy and barbarism. Post-christian is a Sodom and mental illness and therefore is worse. It’s whites who sue the Christians for not-serving gay weddings. It’s the white authorities who legalize Sodomic oppressions. Obama was their mere servant. The secular West educates mankind to be systematically immoral. It’s statistics and reality. You have to wonder what your race is doing. White people need the Holy Bible to do what is right, both then and now.

            Why is it okay to attack the white people for occupying the North American continent but not-okay for attacking them for spreading homosexuality? Ask yourself. It’s liberalism’s double standard. Those who bash the white Christian pioneers of yesteryears, the creators of USA, are the real racists who should leave USA. Stuff belongs to creators. Today’s America is a fascist who forces homosexuality and funds infanticide. I hope your President Trump will make things better.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Secular West lost religious freedom and demands everyone to bow to Sodomy after losing out Christianity. Mankind need Judeo-Christian values for human rights and freedom and fairness, not just for salvation; today’s oppressive secular West proved it.

  • Michael C

    …any grounds of the school open to the public after the school day has ended or on a weekend day, including an outdoor sports field, is a designated public forum.

    …can of worms.

    • RWH

      The school has every right to regulate what goes on on its property both during and after hours. If someone gets hurt, it is the school’s insurance policy that pays the damages. You can’t walk into these places, both the grounds and the buildings, and act like you can do anything you want. My kids might be able to play on a school playground, but they can only do so if the grounds are unlocked. However, I can’t decide to hold an organized event of any type without going through the channels–which usually mean making a reservation and being responsible for liability in the event that someone gets sick or hurt.

      Concerning the Christian nation bit, I have never met an outsider like Grace who is so ill-informed as to how the US Constitution works. We are not a Christian nation. People of all faiths can settle here, and no one particular religious group has special privileges that other groups don’t have. Otherwise, my kids would have grown up praying the rosary in school.

      • Michael C

        The school has every right to regulate what goes on on its property both during and after hours.

        It appears that Rep. Jesse Young (R) doesn’t believe this to be the case.

  • antifasciste

    If the coach is a Buddhist and wants the players to chant “on mane padme hum”, would that be acceptable?

    • RWH

      Exactly! This is the problem with these sort of people. They are open to all sorts of religious stuff at school because “it’s good for the kids” as long as it is their religion. People who were once straight separationists did so because they didn’t want Roman Catholic priests and nuns entering the public schools to teach religion to the kids. However, now it seem okay for evangelicals to enter the schools and to do the exact same thing. Years ago, one of my colleagues teaching world history tried to bring in a Russian Orthodox priest to explain Eastern Orthodoxy, and a number of parents got upset because they didn’t want their kids exposed to some sort of non-Christian cult.

  • The Skeptical Chymist

    It really doesn’t matter what the WA legislature does, this matter is governed by the First Amendment and its interpretation by the Supreme Court. The coach is forbidden from participating in prayers with his student athletes when he is on the clock. He most certainly is forbidden to do so on school property immediately after a game.

    • Guzzman

      I agree. The coach is still an agent of government as long as he is on school property. It does not matter if he is on school grounds before, during, or after instructional hours – he still cannot lawfully participate in, or appear to endorse, religious activity, even if it is entirely student-initiated.

      Also, I seriously doubt the state legislature can force local schools to maintain an open public forum after school personnel have left for the day. As a practical matter, schools have to lock up and close for the night. Access to school grounds and property has to be controlled for security and liability purposes.

    • Doug Indeap

      That’s right. When the coach is acting on behalf of the public school, an arm of the government, he is constrained by the 1st and 14th Amendment’s not to promote religion.

      As I recall that case, the coach’s bosses, the school principal and superintendent, told him that he remained on the job at school football games as long as students remained at the football field after games and thus needed to act accordingly during that time. The coach could not, as he supposed, unilaterally declare himself to be off his job as soon as the game clock wound down to zero and then presume to act merely as an individual by marching to the middle of the field and making a show of praying while the audience of students and parents remained in attendance.

  • Guzzman

    Coach Kennedy was fired for good reason. The school district documented multiple incidents of the coach praying with students on school property. That fact alone made his actions unlawful. That fact alone compelled the school to issue a reprimand against the coach. He continued praying with students on school property even after being notified by the attorney for the school district that this practice was in violation of the Constitution.
    The Supreme Court has ruled on virtually identical cases, many of which were cited by the school district – they found that it is unlawful for public school personnel to lead or even join students in prayer on school property – PERIOD. See Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick, which found schools may not even allow coaches to participate in, or appear to endorse, religious activity that is entirely student-initiated.

  • Tangent002

    No, the event isn’t ‘over’ until the venue is vacated.

  • Tangent002

    Perhaps Young does not realize this legislation would open the doors wide to all sorts of post-game ‘discussion’. Why not a post-game pro-choice rally? What happens when The Satanic Temple shows up for their time in this ‘public forum’?

  • Craig Apelbaum

    The principles of America were founded on a Judoeo Christian society. So I say let them pray to THE ALMIGHTY.
    And let us say Amen.