By Rev. Greg Reffner
This particular student has been my neighbor since we moved into the parsonage. He is a kind, thoughtful, and smart senior high school student who is curious about religion but does not adhere to any particular tradition. He comes to our church’s youth gatherings because we’re friends and keeps up with me and several others in our faith community. This student is one of the many Bremerton public school students that I had in my heart as I traveled to Washington D.C. with a cohort of Bremerton faith leaders to voice our support for our local school district in the Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case that the Supreme Court heard on April 25th.
If you are unfamiliar with the case, I don’t blame you. The disputed events took place over six years ago, and the all-important facts of the case have been curiously undecided for just as long. A quick google search will tell you that one of the Bremerton high school football coaches was leading post-game Christian prayer on the 50-yard line after home football games that students participated in. When asked to stop by the district, citing the separation of church and state and the first amendment establishment clause, he refused.
But I’m not a lawyer; I’m a pastor. And as a United Methodist pastor, one of the things I regularly teach and preach is how Christians ought to follow the example of our God and continually examine the power and privilege that we hold and consider what it looks like to let go of that power and privilege so that our local neighborhoods might reflect the communities of love, justice, and peace that Jesus came to establish.
The fact is that Coach Kennedy was in a position of authority; he was a man who was looked up to by his players. He made calls about who played and who sat on the bench. His prayers did not examine the power and privilege that he held as a white, male, evangelical Christian; his prayers exploited it to proselytize vulnerable high school students. Yeah, Christian Nationalism still has a strong hold on our country.
It was an honor for me to serve alongside other Christian and Jewish clergy from Bremerton as we supported our local school district. While enforcing the separation of church and state may seem like an attack on Christianity, I learned from a Jewish rabbi in Bremerton that this separation is the only reason they, a religious minority, are free to worship in America. My siblings in Christ, I encourage you to see what is truly at stake with this case. It is not an attack on our religious practices. If SCOTUS rules in favor of the coach, it will signal further erosion in the separation of church and state and one more desperate attempt for American Christianity to clamor for the power and privilege that was never ours to have.
Rev. Gregory Reffner serves as pastor of Brownsville United Methodist Church in Bremerton, Washington.
Agree with Reverend Reffner,
God created us all equal with certain rights. Separation of Church n State is essential. If SCOTUS rules for the coach – FREEDOM OF RELIGION is endangered.
The term separation of church is very much misunderstood by most folks, Mr. Jefferson used it to describe how The United States would not have a king who was also head of the church. If you read the first Amendment to our Constitution it clearly states that congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion , OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press: or the right of the people to peaceably assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, It seems that the “woke” people choose to ignore the OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF part as though anyone associated with a government entity looses their right to exercise their religious rights. The rights of the individual are determined by God as correctly judged by our Founding Fathers and that notion is a universal truth and has nothing to to with “separation of church and state”. The rights of the individual is supreme and no amount of liberal theology can change that. SCOTUS should follow The Constitution to guarantee that all citizens, including coaches, can pray with their team. Otherwise evil wins.
Gregory, I admire your courage and faith. I’d like to suggest, however, that you pull up the on line
guidance provided by the Jay Sekulow of the ACLU…..and or call him at 912-489-0528 or cell phone
912-690-0451. He and his law and justice organization have helped many schools and administrations
understand how to honor both school and religious rights…..stressing that the Supreme Court rulings
do not prevent prayer or prayer gatherings within the school systems in the U.S…..with the clarification
they cannot be “required” participation….always giving persons the right not to participate if they prefer
not to pray. Jay Sekulow has helped many people and organizations and schools in their understanding
of their rights….and the rights of studens….and teachers…..as he has made presentations before the Supreme Court. Please reach out for his guidance and help. Bless you and Meg and all of the faith
leaders from your community. Your may learn that the coach has rights,,,,his students have rights….
and the school has rights….but there are limitations that prevent the restriction of free speech….and
religious free speech….and school systems cannot prevent teachers, students or parents from freely
expressing their faith…..or their lack of faith….and by law cannot force those views on others. My
prayers are with you. The ACLU has given guidance on such cases throughout America. JHD