Coach Joe Kennedy must be happy. Thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling in his favor, he can publicly display his religious fervor on the football pitch as he pleases.
I have written it before and I will write it again. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a timely and insightful editorial cartoon can be worth ten thousand. One that caught my eye appeared online on June 27, the day SCOTUS ruled in favor of Kennedy. It is by national cartoonist Clay Jones and depicts a shirtless man with a pentagram on his chest and a ram’s head on his head. He stands on the 50 yard line and holds a sword and a candle. He is surrounded by his footballers, all kneeling. And he said, “I call upon you, Beelzebub, the dark lord of two-point conversions and side kicks.” . . Get on!” Two referees stand on the sidelines, one of whom remarks: “SCOTUS said the school couldn’t stop the coach from praying on the pitch.
In all honesty, I doubt Bremerton High football fans would ever see a coach try to summon help from a demon before a game. But editorial cartoons are meant to be provocative, and this one certainly is. The point I wouldn’t dismiss is how Jones has attracted players. They look childish and scared.
Human nature and athletic ambition being what they are, I suspect some of Kennedy’s players wanted to please their coach more than they wanted to pray. Was it a prayer team to play?
It reminds me of the coercive Christian proselytizing at the US Air Force Academy in 2005. Evangelical Christians there were accused of trying to impose their religion on all cadets. It was, of course, the extreme. Upper class students and service academy officers play a key role in determining class standing, which in turn determines what assignment a cadet will get in the service. But a high school football coach can also have a big influence on a player’s future.
In my column of June 12 (“The Fallacy of Forced Patriotism”), I reminded readers that there is a fine line between godliness and the sin of pride. Those who insist on praying in public lend themselves to the suspicion that what they really seek is admiration and praise. With the Colorado baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, Kennedy might as well have proclaimed, “Hey, everyone! Look at me. Look how devout I am! I further reminded readers that Christ would have urged his followers to pray privately so that they could not be accused of doing more than praying.
I never met Joe Kennedy. I have to assume he is sincere in his devotion to Christianity. But I’m also aware that people often have mixed motivations for what they do. It seems to me that with the support of the religious right’s First Liberty Institute, Kennedy’s quest has become more political than devotional. He volunteered to be a ram against the wall separating church and state in America. Ask yourself why he didn’t just hold his prayer meetings in the locker room out of public view.
I have always believed that religion should be a private matter between an individual and God and practiced only with like-minded believers. I realize, however, that evangelicals feel compelled to share what they believe to be their good news of salvation. In my experience, this can be an imposition, an embarrassment and an invasion of privacy. When I was a teenager, I knew a zealous boy who approached strangers on city buses, asking if they were saved. If I were an evangelical Christian, I could just wear a T-shirt with a cross saying, “I’ve been saved.” Ask me how. Wouldn’t that be enough?
Again, as I have written before, our founding fathers had the wisdom to found our republic on a consensus of humanist values and ideals that owe as much to ancient Greece and Rome as to our Judeo heritage. -Christian. They agreed that America should be a secular humanist nation. It was an inspired choice. This sets us apart from the European history of religious wars and sectarian persecution, making America truly exceptional.
One of my superiors, nationally syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson, recently warned that our conservative Supreme Court justices believe America is a “Christian nation, not a secular one, and they’re not afraid to push this view”. Agnostic that I am, I’ll risk a prayer: God help us if Robinson is right.
Contact Ed Palm at [email protected]