It was the end of the game. The spirited competition had concluded, the cheering faded to quiet, and the Friday night lights flooded the quiet field. Coach Kennedy walked across the field in his blue wind jacket. When he reached the 50-yard line, he knelt, placing one knee on the marker chalk and grass. He bowed his head. He prayed.
Coach Kennedy continued this tradition for years. Over time, other students, including members of the opposing team, joined him -- all voluntarily -- to offer a short prayer of thanksgiving for the safety of the players and the friendly competition.
And then the Bremerton School District took issue with Coach Kennedy's actions. They called his actions unlawful under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. They suspended Coach Kennedy and threatened to fire him if he continued to pray before or after the games. And many people were left wondering why Coach Kennedy was being forced to choose between faith and football -- and his job.
But it's not just Coach Kennedy. Coach Kennedy's story is one in a pattern of situations where Americans are asked to check their faith freedoms at the door in exchange for political correctness.
Military chaplains often tell me they are concerned that acting consistent with the tenets of their faith -- which is the very nature of their position -- could mean losing their job. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious non-profit organization that cares for the vulnerable elderly poor, faces pressure to violate their faith because the government required certain services in their health insurance plans. The alternative was to pay massive fines to the IRS. Little Sisters of the Poor won an important victory with the Supreme Court last week, but their journey is not over and has taken years of struggle within the legal system.
Have we come to a point where we must take this level of effort to protect our basic religious freedoms?
We're now at a point where many people feel the heavy hand of government is reaching into what is one of the most personal areas of life -- faith. We're now at a point where people of faith may face restrictions from fully participating in society -- owning businesses, entering the medical profession, or providing much-needed charitable services. We're now at a point when the government essentially says Americans can believe whatever they want, but they could be penalized if they exercise those beliefs.
This is dangerous territory. Even more appalling is that these infringements on faith freedoms are covered under the cloak of "political correctness." But this issue is deeper than being politically correct.
Religious freedom is a much deeper matter than the right to pray or recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms. Our national motto, "In God We Trust," is more than just a phrase etched in stone. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right that is essential to a free society. These rights form the bedrock of liberty and freedom upon which we stand. It's why nations across the world yearn for religious freedom every day. It's why our nation stands as a beacon of hope and freedom for so many across the globe.
For me and many Americans, faith isn't something we do -- it's who we are. The same is true for our nation. Our Founding Fathers rejected political correctness, and they rejected the prevalent tradition at the time that the government had the right to tell the people what religion was acceptable. Instead, they advocated for our First Amendment rights and the freedom of religious expression. They did not mandate that faith be scrubbed from the public square or relegated to our homes or places of worship. Why? Because religious freedom is a fundamental human right with deep roots in our nation's history. To chip away at the freedom of faith is to break the very core of who we are as a nation.
We must reaffirm and protect the freedom of faith that defines our nation. That's why I've made it a priority to protect Americans' Constitutional right to religious freedom. In fact, people, motivated by faith, are movers and shakers quietly working to make our communities better. Every American should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of punishment from the government. It is a fundamental human right worth protecting