Breaking: Seattle Chapter of The Satanic Temple Prepared for Satanic Invocation Tonight in Bremerton

Breaking: Seattle Chapter of The Satanic Temple Prepared for Satanic Invocation Tonight in Bremerton October 29, 2015

Logo of The Satanic TempleThe local story about Bremerton High football coach Joe Kennedy, who for years has been praying with his players on the field after games, is now national.

Coach Kennedy ignored the local school district’s directive from a month ago to discontinue the practice, and he was put on paid administrative leave yesterday. Nevertheless, the Seattle chapter of The Satanic Temple, of which I’m a member, has been invited by members of the Bremerton High community. It is planning on attending tonight’s football game, ready with an invocation of its own.

The Satanic Temple (TST) has pushed for church-state separation in a number of instances, most notably in their move to get the Oklahoma legislature to either remove a Ten Commandments monument from public grounds or allow access by other religions. The Ten Commandments monument was removed a few weeks ago.

Coach Kennedy, victim?

Coach Kennedy, represented by the Liberty Institute (Kim Davis’s counsel), is trying to spin the issue as if he’s both the good guy in this story and the victim: “This is the land of opportunity, and I’m seeing it all stripped away because I’m an employee.”

This isn’t hard, coach. You’re not acting as an individual citizen when you’re an agent of the government. When in a position of governmental authority, you can’t say and do everything you can when you’re only acting as a private citizen.

For him to force his students to listen to a Muslim or Hindu sermon would obviously be a violation. Even the Liberty Institute would agree. Make it a Christian sermon instead, and the problem remains. Make it “voluntary,” and the problem still remains: a coach is a government employee in a position of authority, able to punish players with tougher practice, less game time, or even an inferred “I’m disappointed in you, son.”

Even Jesus has made clear that Coach Kennedy is doing it wrong. Jesus put this kind of public prayer off limits (and how much more public could it be, now that it’s a national story?).

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5–6)

Joe Kennedy may be at the game tonight—he’s free to do so. The TST members have an invocation of their own planned, but the organization’s policy (as I understand it—I speak for myself and not for the TST or its Seattle chapter) is to become involved only in response to an environment that appears to give government authority to a single religion. It’s all or nothing. If there are no public prayers, then we’ll just enjoy the game.

To the good citizens of Bremerton who don’t like members of The Satanic Temple attending tonight’s football game, I say: thank the Liberty Institute.

Legal issues

For more background, I’ve summarized the two sets of tests the Supreme Court has established for analyzing a potential violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause in schools (the Lemon test) and a potential violation of the Free Exercise Clause (the Sherbert test) here.

The Bremerton School District has answered a number of questions about their actions and the legal precedents they’re bound by. For an individual new to this debate, Kennedy’s point may sound reasonable, but this is settled law. Here are a few excerpts.

About precedents that make this kind of prayer illegal:

In Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), the [Supreme] Court held that a school district’s practice of simply allowing its facilities to be used for religious expression during a district-sponsored football game violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because of the reasonable perception by students and attendees of district endorsement of religion. That decision makes clear that students can pray on their own; but it is a constitutional violation of students’ rights for a District employee, acting as such, to initiate prayers with students.

The school district understands that not complying with the law wastes public education money:

The District cannot put scarce funds needed for the District’s basic educational mandate (which our State Supreme Court has already determined to be constitutionally inadequate) at such risk.

Response to the question, “Isn’t Kennedy off duty after the game ends, and free to do what he wants?”

No. All paid coaches in District athletic programs are required to remain with the program, performing duties as assigned, following athletic contests. These events clearly do not end upon the blowing of the final whistle.

About the coercive character of the prayers:

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 District has a fundamental obligation to protect the rights of all of its students.

About the likelihood that the TST will be allowed to perform its invocation tonight:

The football field is not a public forum when it is in use for a District-sponsored athletic event. Thus, no group will be approved to use it for their own purposes while these events are occurring, and the District will take steps to enforce the closure of the field to non-participants while it is still in use for the District event.

[UPDATE 10/30/15: At the last minute, I wasn’t able to attend last night’s football game. However, a Seattle Times video shows the Satanists at the game, some “We love Jesus” taunts as well as some support by local folks, and Joe Kennedy praying in the stands after the game with some players. My guess is that, acting as a private citizen, this crosses no line.]

Image credit: The Satanic Temple

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  • tsig

    If he feels his status as a government employee is too restrictive he is free to change his status.

  • Do you have any idea how SCOTUS is interpreting the word ‘religion’, these days? I wonder how the interpretation has evolved over the years; I’ve never thought to look into it. William T. Cavanaugh talks about how ‘religion’ went from being considered a unifying force to being a divisive force around the 1940s in The Myth of Religious Violence; in academia the transition would have been much earlier, as is documented by Christian Smith in The Secular Revolution. But I’ve never looked at how SCOTUS [currently] defines ‘religion’.

    For example, what about the flavors of Buddhism which contain no deities? Or suppose a coach started following one school of thought in psychology (for an idea of the many schools, see the the table of contents of Luciano L’Abate’s 2011 Paradigms in Theory Construction). At what point would his allegiance to this one school of thought—perhaps represented by one person—be considered a ‘religion’?

    • adam

      “William T. Cavanaugh talks about how ‘religion’ went from being considered a unifying force to being a divisive force ”

      Religion primary purpose is divisive by its nature.

      • Kodie

        Religion can be uniting if you are let to believe everyone around you is Christian, and divisive when you’re forced to realize that not everybody is.

        • adam

          “Religion can be uniting”

          Yes, but it has do be divisive first and formost

    • My understanding is that the government (SCOTUS, IRS, etc.) has a generous definition of religion and never get into deciding which religions are correct and which are bogus. Consider the acceptance of Scientology by the IRS.

      • I said nothing about bogus religion. I did not need that distinction for my comment to be 100% intelligible.

        Instead, I raised the specter of a psychologist initially starting as a scientist, but possibly slowly morphing into a religious figure. (You know Freud can be seen this way, right?) Basically, I posited the sorites paradox, not between heap and non-heap, but between science and religion.

        • adam

          “I said nothing about bogus religion.”

          Why not?

          Why run away from talking about bogus religions, afraid you wont be able to separate out yours?

        • Pofarmer

          “I posited the sorites paradox, not between heap and non-heap, but between science and religion.”

          What you attempted to do was move the goal posts and derail yet another thread. You’re nothing if not consistent.

        • Hehehe:

          BS: Your style is unusual, with all the tangents. If I were bored, tracking down all your Easter eggs could be fun. Unfortunately, I’m closer to frazzled than bored, so they got in the way of the conversation.

          You have a lot of energy for the topic, and you can construct a coherent sentence, which isn’t always true with my Christian antagonists. My biggest complaint was that we had the opportunity to discuss issues like God’s actions in the OT, but you avoided that.

          Shall we talk about tangents? The person who runs this website and posts some if not all of the blog posts, @BobSeidensticker:disqus, wanted to talk about ‘genocide’ on a blog post titled Reject the Scientific Consensus? How Do You Justify THAT?. I think I will follow his example, and not yours for what is acceptable on this blog. Have a good day!

  • Greg G.
    • I missed that (and indeed had to miss the event last night). Thanks for the link. I’ll add that to the post.

  • Ron


    “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly . . . go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.”~Jesus

    • I wonder how Coach Kennedy would respond to Jesus calling him a hypocrite.

      • adam

        My bet is that he has an entirely different Jesus, that he worships…

      • 90Lew90

        He’d probably throw a Bible at him and tell him he better get reading.

  • busterggi

    Puny god.

  • GalapagosPete

    Interesting they won the game where the Satanists came and did their thing.

    It’s almost as though prayer doesn’t matter at all.

    • The home team won the game right at the end … and when did the Satanic Temple folks show up?

      I don’t think I need to connect the dots for you. There’s clearly a cause-and-effect relationship here with the TST invoking not-Satan to help out.

  • SteveK

    Seems like the coach could let a student player initiate the prayer instead of him and that would resolve everything.

    • That might work. It’s tricky, though. Student-led prayer (say, over the PA at the beginning of the school day or at the stadium) wouldn’t work because, again, the apparatus of the government is being used for coercion.

      • SteveK

        Who is suggesting using the PA system?

        • Greg G.

          If the student initiates it on his/her own, it would be OK but if it is continuing a precedent started by the coach, it becomes questionable as it would not be truly initiated by the student.

    • ElRay

      Not really. If a school official is involved at all, it gives the impression of begin endorsed by the school. The courts have ruled on this over and over and over.

      The problem is that they tried that cop-out. It was “student initiated”, but the actually lead by the coach. Then they tried the claim that the coach was “off duty” the instant the last whistle blew and he was acting as a private citizen. The Satanic Temple called them on this lie because if the coach was acting as a private citizen, then they could go out on the field too, as private citizens.

      • SteveK

        We agree.

    • Sol III

      Supreme Court rulings are a little murkier on this. Student led prayer at a secular school event, like football, still involves a captive audience of students, and can be potentially coercive. A student-led religious club is fine because the members are knowingly participating in a religious event.

  • SteveK

    You’re a member of the Satanic Temple? LOL

    • You have no idea what the tenets of The Satanic Temple are, and yet you question my acceptance of them? LOL

      • SteveK

        I’m LOLing the desire to be associated with this group. Most people agree with those same tenets but few are kooky enough to sign up. There’s a reason for that.

        • As far as I can tell, they’re the most efficient agent for church-state separation in the cosmos.

          That works for me, but perhaps that’s kooky from your standpoint.

        • SteveK

          So the tenets aren’t the primary reason why you associate with this group, yet you cited the tenets as the reason why my LOL missed the mark. That’s also kooky.

        • The tenets are terrific, and their work is amazing.

          I’m missing the problem.

        • SteveK

          And I like pizza. What were we talking about?

        • MNb


          “There’s a reason for that.”
          Is that reason that you like pizza?
          Rather sad that you have lost the thread of your own argument, isn’t it?

        • We were talking about the excellence of the TST tenets and the excellence of their work. And you were desperately flailing about trying to find something to complain about, remember?

        • TheNuszAbides

          Steve probably hoped there was some irony lurking just below the surface of your “desire to be associated” (lol). not that he can be trusted to identify irony any more accurately/honestly than the various other concepts he’s fumbled with around here …

        • Greg G.

          Which of the tenets do you object to? They seem quite reasonable to me, certainly more reasonable that the tenets of any religion I know of.

          There are seven fundamental tenets.

          1 One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
          2 The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
          3 One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
          4 The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
          5 Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
          6 People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
          7 Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word

        • SteveK

          None are objectionable.

        • Greg G.

          Then why all the LOLing?

        • SteveK

          Because it’s funny. There’s nothing unique about these tenets. They are generic and widely accepted. I could be a member based on these tenets, but I’ll pass.

          Bob seemingly went out of his way to associate with the one most likely to generate a “WTF??” response every time he mentions it by name.

        • MNb

          “There’s a reason for that.”
          And that reason is

          “Because it’s funny”?
          Excellent argument again, SteveK. Excellently kooky, that is.

        • Your religion demands that you just whine about something–is that it? I declared that they’re the most efficient agent for church-state separation in the cosmos.

          Seems pretty well grounded to me.

        • SteveK

          I’m LOLing about it.

        • Which means: your complaint was a misfire since you’ve now got nothing to say except gibberish. OK, got it.

        • Susan

          There’s a reason for that.

          Which is what?

        • TheNuszAbides

          Spooky Invocation ‘Theory’ is my bet.

          for my money, “The Beetlejuice-ic Temple” would be ~objectively~ kooky. ‘The Satanic Temple’ is simply bold (at least in any region where theists regularly apply undue pressure to anything challenging their precious little conformities). I’ve a good mind to join, myself. looked up the site a few months ago and haven’t come across ‘Lucien Greaves’ making any objectionable statements–not as its spokesperson, anyway. even their ritual over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother is just my cup of tea.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Most people agree with those same tenets

          in the sense that various communities have thrived after at least paying lip service to secular values? perhaps. it’s giving credit for the ideals to some superfluous/supernatural agency that seems to make folks like yourself uncomfortable about superficial-yet-significant aspects of labeling.