freedom of speech, religion & football

Thank you, Charlie Puth, for your 2016 Nine Track Mind hit…

We don’t talk anymore

We don’t talk anymore

We don’t talk anymore

Like we used to do

We don’t love anymore

What was all of it for?

Oh, we don’t talk anymore

Like we used to do

We have trouble with the most basic of things. Why? Maybe because we can’t talk. We talk intelligently, maybe, sometimes, but also inflammatorily, disrespectfully, arrogantly, partisanly, etc. etc. Oh, we don’t talk anymore like we used to.

Note the Supreme Court recent ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, objectively summarized by Ballotpedia:

  • The case: High school football coach Joseph Kennedy prayed at midfield following the conclusion of games. The school district told Kennedy this violated school board policy and required him to stop so as not to violate the Constitution’s establishment clause. Kennedy stated that he would not comply. The school district attempted to accommodate Kennedy’s expressions, but Kennedy declined the offers and prayed on the field again after two more games. Kennedy was placed on administrative leave. Kennedy sued the school in U.S. district court for violating his right to free speech. The court ruled that the school district suspended Kennedy solely to avoid violating the establishment clause. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment.
  • The issue: The case concerned religious expression at a public school and the Constitution’s establishment clause.
  • The questions presented: 1. Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection. 2. Whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses, the Establishment Clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.
  • The outcome: The court reversed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and held that a coach praying on-field after a football game is an activity protected by the First Amendment.

To ensure we are unambiguous in our representation of this situation, initially Mr. Kennedy prayed on his own. Over time, some players asked if they could pray alongside him. Kennedy responded by saying, “This is a free country. You can do what you want.” Most of the team ended up voluntarily joining him. This occurred for over 7 years with no voiced complaints.

Note also for the purposes of accurate discussion: the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools. But this wasn’t school-sponsored; it was the appearance of school-sponsored prayer.

Hence… was the prayer actually private? Was it public? Did players participate voluntarily? Do they have the right? Were students in any way coerced? Was peer pressure involved? Does that matter? Was the public school system endorsing religion?

Also reasonable questions… Was this an erosion of the separation of church and state? How much does voluntary matter? What’s the relationship between prayer and free speech?

(And for us personally…) Where are we inconsistent in our application of free speech? How much does my alignment or lack of it with the cause impact my judgment of what’s constitutionally protected?

We’re trying to always get to what’s good and right and true, friends. So how do we talk constructively about what this is and what it isn’t? How does the freedom of expression of religion apply? I’d love to get to what’s healthy/not about said decisions and minimize those partisan rhetorical pockets.

As Wendi Hendricks said last week as a contributor to Real Clear Policy, “For perhaps the first time in America’s history, you can’t express a difference of opinion without fear of being shunned by your friends, disowned by your family, let go from your job, and canceled on social media.” We now have trouble with even the freest of speech.

Why? Because…

We don’t talk anymore

We don’t talk anymore

Like we used to do…

Oh, it’s such a shame

That we don’t talk anymore.

Respectfully… always…