Somehow We Never Made This Connection. And We Should Have.

First Amendment to the US Constitution:

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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? People have the right to speak and practice their beliefs, assemble, and seeing redress from the government.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. There is no such thing as an “absolute right,” and that includes rights enumerated within the First Amendment. For example, you don’t have the right to interrupt by shouting and protesting during public meetings. That will get you arrested. As part of your religion, you don’t have the right to practice virgin sacrifices. In short, in protecting the rights of all, some rights can be restricted. There is lots of case law on this, but the gist of the matter is in restricting a right, the restriction must serve a governmental interest of protecting the rights of others.

Which brings us to two or three people involved in the football world.

The first is Colin Kapernick. the former NFL quarterback who started kneeling in protest before the start of NFL games. Kapernick was eventually released by the San Francisco 49er’s and is now suing the NFL for collusion in some other team not hiring him.

People have defended Kapernick’s (and other players) protest on First Amendment grounds which is totally misplaced.

The First Amendment protects people from actions of the government, and not private businesses like the NFL. In short, Kapernick’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

But that brings us to high school assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, formerly of Bremerton High School.

In 2015, Kennedy was suspended by the school district for praying on the field after games. The story goes that people, including students joined him in the prayers. When someone protested, Kennedy was suspended with pay and his contract for the 2016 was not renewed.

Kennedy sued.

Kennedy charged in his lawsuit that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights.

Disagreeing, the 9th Circuit panel said the fact that Kennedy insisted on praying in front of students and parents showed his speech was directed at least in part to others, not solely to God.

“When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected,” wrote the 9th Circuit, upholding a decision by a district court judge.

Kennedy is appealing to the Supreme Court, hoping the Court will hear the case.

>After the ruling, Mike Berry, First Liberty’s deputy general counsel, vowed to take Kennedy’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court, although Berry acknowledged there was a high probability the court would not agree to hear the case.

“The odds of any case making it to the Supreme Court are pretty rare,” Berry said. “But we’re hopeful.”

The Daily Signal went and visited Kennedy and a couple of his former players:

There are similarities and differences between Kapernick and Kennedy.

Both men seek to express themselves and to inspire people. Both men are lightening rods for controversy.

The difference is that while people defend Kapernick in his belief and stance that is not protected by the First Amendment, they won’t say a word about Kennedy’s beliefs and stances that are protected by the First Amendment.

What is wrong with that picture?

Furthermore, if you remember, when Tim Tebow played in the NFL, after a touchdown, he would kneel and pray. His actions never interrupted the game or anything. His actions were controversial to some and the NFL quickly moved to change the rule that Tebow could no longer pray on the field, but he could pray on the sidelines.

The difference in the reaction from the NFL is Tebow’s religion. Both Kapernick and Tebow were expressing their deeply held beliefs. (Although it could be argued that Tebow was not seeking the attention to his beliefs as was Kapernick.) The NFL came down on Tebow but not Kapernick.

We had never thought of the religious vs. the “social justice” connection between these three men kneeling at a football game and we should have.

2 Responses to “Somehow We Never Made This Connection. And We Should Have.”

  1. Bob Chadwick says:

    It is quite possible to thank God quietly and privately for his help and guidance. I do it all the time. No one hears except God and me.

    To do something like that publicly, on a football field, doesn’t make God take any more notice of it. All it does is to inflame the small-minded folks who choose to be offended by the demonstration.

    And regarding Kapernick and his supporters – His activities are those of a poorly qualified player who is trying to get some publicity. His commitment to racial issues and “stopping police brutality” would be better demonstrated by his donating a healthy portion of his salary to organizations supporting those causes.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Bob Chadwick,

      Thanks for the comment.

      While you make a good point about the visuals and small minded people being inflamed, to us there is something to be said about the priorities of life in praying. How many times have we seen a player make a catch and score, only to get up and say “look at me! Look what I did!”?

      On an earthly level it irritates us to no end that the players that do that forget the other 10 guys who made it possible for him to score. You have the quarterback who threw the ball; the running back that picked up a blitz; other receivers who ran routes to clear out areas; lineman who held their blocks so the quarterback was standing instead of on his backside. (Coaches that call the plays have a part too.) All of those teammates worked together to make the play and the score happen yet we have divas whose first response is “look at me!”

      (And don’t even get us started on soccer where after scoring, players run away from the teammates that made the score happen.)

      I think for those who drop to a knee in prayer realize that they play in a bigger game than one on a 120 yard field. It’s not about winning and losing, but about trying for excellence in all parts of your life. That means thanking God for the abilities and the opportunities He presents. Thanking God for that is not wrong no matter what the situation.

      As for inflaming small minded people, while you are correct, it seems odd to us that we worry about the positive message a short prayer can send rather than the negative message of selfishness from the “look at me!” player.

      We do understand your point though. Like anything, even prayers on the field can be taken to an extreme. We don’t know the bright line where prayer crosses from communicating with God to “look at me! I’m communicating with God!” is, but we know it exists and we have to be leery of it.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.