Senator Lankford Defends Washington Coach Right to Live His Faith
Lankford: “Every individual retains their Constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion”
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor about his opposition to Bremerton, Washington School District’s decision to put Coach Joe Kennedy on administrative paid leave after he refused to stop praying after football games.
On Wednesday, Lankford urged the school district to allow Coach Kennedy to live his faith during a floor speech on the Senate floor. Since 2008, Assistant Coach Kennedy has practiced a tradition of praying at the 50-yard line after the conclusion of games. At times, students have chosen to pray with him. Earlier this month, and after seven years, the Bremerton School District ordered Coach Kennedy to stop.
Earlier this week, Senator Lankford and Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA), co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, led a Member of Congress letter to Bremerton, Washington School District officials and wrote an op-ed defending his freedom to exercise his religion.
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On American’s right to live their faith:
“May I remind Americans, we do not have freedom of worship in America. We have the free exercise of religion in America. Government does not have the authority to confine your faith to the location of government's choosing. In a government entity, like a school district, cannot say to an employee you can only live your faith over there where we pick. Mr. President, I don't know what this school district is going to do in the days ahead but I know what Americans should do, of all faiths and people of no faith. They should rise up and say we are a nation that protects the free exercise of religion.”
On the Bremerton, Washington School’s District dismissal letter:
“…for some reason the Bremerton School District determined this is completely unacceptable. Their perspective is you can only have faith if no one sees it. They literally set a new standard, what they’re taking from the Borden Case, which I’ll explain in a moment, but they’re saying if you're a school official no one can see that you have faith because if anyone sees that you have faith, they'll take that as the establishment of religion from the school district. That is a standard no court in America has set. That would mean any individual that’s Jewish couldn’t wear a Yamaka, if they’re a teacher. It means that anyone that’s Muslim couldn’t wear a head scarf. Because clearly that’s a visual display of faith. That would mean no teacher could bow their head and pray before their meal at the school lunchroom.”
On the Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick:
“They quoted multiple times, the school district did, from the Borden Case. It’s called the Borden v. School District of the township of East Brunswick case. In that case, it was a football coach before the game at a mandatory meeting of the team leading them in a prayer. Now the only similarity here is prayer and football. Because this is not a mandatory meeting before the game. This is not a required closed time. This is an individual after the game is over, kneeling down on his own, freely expressing his faith without requiring anyone else to be there, anyone to listen. This is an individual living their faith. That is free in America whether you’re Muslim, whether you’re Wiccan, whether you’re Hindu, whether you’re Christian, whether you’re a Jew, whether you're a federal employee or state employee or private citizen. Every individual retains their Constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion. Does that mean they can coerce people in that situation? It does not. The Court’s been very clear on that, but that's not what this was. This was not a situation where the coach was coercing his players to have to participate in a prayer or proselytizing his players while he was on school time.”
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