A high school football coach in Washington state who is known for praying on the playing field has been placed on paid administrative leave after Satanists asked to hold a ceremony at a game.
According to the Huffington Post, the Bremerton School District near Seattle said that coach Joe Kennedy had been placed on leave for refusing to comply with District directives that he “refrain from engaging in overt, public religious displays on the football field while on duty as a coach.”
The decision comes after a student at the high school asked a local chapter of the Satanic Temple to deliver an invocation on the field after a game. The Satanists had planned to oblige.
“We will be at Thursday’s game doing a postgame Satanic invocation on the field if Coach Kennedy continues to pray,” Lilith Starr, who heads the Satanic Temple in Seattle, told KIRO Radio. “We won’t step on the field if he is stopped or doesn’t pray.”
Kennedy had reportedly been asked not to pray during games, but continued to do so and threatened to sue the school district for trying to stop him.
In a statement, the district said that while no players were directly coerced into participation in prayer, but that by initiating prayer in his capacity as a coach, Kennedy potentially violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits a state endorsement of religion.
“It is very likely that over the years, players have joined in these activities because to do otherwise would mean potentially alienating themselves from their team, and possibly their coaches,” the statement said.
While the statement didn’t mention the Satanist group by name, it did bar other “private groups” from using District facilities for religious activities.
After the suspension was announced, the Satanists withdrew their request to hold their invocation.
“By putting [Kennedy] on paid administrative leave and releasing a strongly-worded public statement, the district has sent an extremely clear signal that they will hold fast the line between church and state,” Starr wrote in a Facebook post.