Judge throws out suit by praying Wash. football coach - Freedom From Religion


Even the gospels have weighed in on this matter.


I am always impressed by the sheer wickedness of those who would impose prayer on kids. No regard for basic civilized values.


I don’t know if I’d call him wicked, but I’m uncomfortable with what he was doing. I don’t understand why he didn’t just adjust and stop doing it. If he did it over the protests if kids, well that’s another thing entirely.

I have the Amway rule. If it is inappropriate to push Amway multi-level marketing onto people in a specific setting, then it is probably inappropriate to push public prayer onto people in that same situation.

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I think it’s actually a highly aggressive behavior. People who want to force religion onto those to whom they have custodial responsibility and ethical obligations don’t do this blindly, or with good intent: they do it because they think they can. He obviously did this knowingly, after being warned to stop, and I just have a very hard time seeing how that is anything other than clear bad faith. With regard to the kids, it looks like actual malice; with regard to the school district, reckless disregard of the liability issues he was creating.

Now, the “cover” for this would presumably be his claim that he thinks he is the keeper of the One True Faith, and that nothing done in the service of that faith can be wrong because his god is going to kick the stuffing out of all the unbelievers when they’re dead, and because a god that does things like that is, obviously, the source of all moral values. But I don’t think that works.

Lots of us come into positions in life where we have fiduciary duties, or other forms of legal duty, which exist outside of and, to some great extent, independent of our own values. We learn how to deal with that. If I am administering a decedent’s estate, and I happen to have some amazing financial opportunity which I cannot quite fund, and I am pretty sure that I could pay the estate a 20% return on a loan to myself, to the benefit both of me and of the estate, I am nonetheless precluded ethically from doing it, and I may well go to prison if I do. Why? Because I have signed on, by being willing to be the administrator of the estate, to rules which transcend any private judgment of mine, and these rules include no self-dealing and no conflicts of interest. It may be that, because of this rule, the estate is missing out on a tremendous opportunity; but my duty is clear and I would do it despite considerable arguments why I should not.

This man stood in a position of trust. He was employed by the public to discharge that trust in a manner which did not discriminate against people who did not share his faith. That duty is not something he is entitled to opt out of by virtue of his private theological musings. I think “wicked” actually puts it pretty well.

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I agree and did not mean to condone the behavior in any way.

Understood. And it may be that you and I assign different shades of meaning to “wicked,” which admittedly is not a self-defining term.

It may be that it is hard for some people to understand their duties, and why that is can vary with the situation. I tend to look at situations like this and see just straightforward amorality, and that’s consistent with the “might makes right” model of “morality” (in quotes because I think it is a substitute for, rather than a system of, morality) which prevails in many Christian communities: god is powerful, ergo, what god says is right is right, even if it’s wrong.

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In the end, we can usually only judge behavior, not people’s hearts. And really bad behavior often proceeds with the genuine good intentions. So I’d rather say it was bad behavior than call him wicked. I don’t know him. Neither do you.


Yes. But he probably does not see it that way.

Right. But he may believe that the best way to fulfill that trust is to give those students “the one true religion”.

Yes, that’s a distorted understanding of trust. But that kind of distortion is common.

Ah, to me, intentions may drive behavior, ergo, intentions may be inferred from it. He knew his duty and had been informed on the point; and if he’d consulted counsel he’d have found that he’d been informed correctly on the point.

While there are circumstances in which we need only the behavior to make a particular judgment, there are others where we need more in order to know what our attitude should be. When someone knowingly violates the civil rights of people to whom he owes known duties, I am not sure that “people’s hearts” have anything to do with the matter. In my fiduciary example, I presume that the “heart” of the person who would self-deal and engage in a conflict of interest is all good; he still needs to go to prison because he knew his duty, he knew that the circumstances did not change his duty, and he knowingly breached that duty.

I would say that subjective goodness really is nothing, when duties are clear. There is such a thing as error, of course, and when we have someone whose behavior might be founded upon error rather than on willful violation of trust, that’s another matter. A teacher who didn’t understand church/state obligations wouldn’t be much of an American, but we tend to forgive in situations where the violation is not willful. This was willful, and we don’t need to know how he felt about it to understand that: he had his duties made clear to him. If the earlier misconduct was unknowing, well, I guess it is an indictment of his civics education. But this subsequent misconduct was not unknowing, of course.

I don’t know your experiences, and I would imagine that as a person of a much darker skin tone than mine you probably have experiences with discrimination that are quite different from my own. But I can say that as a child I was subjected to this sort of thing from teachers with some regularity; it became clear to me eventually that the teachers really did know it was wrong, but they also didn’t really care. I spent a bit of time counseling someone who had the misfortune of being the one objector to public prayer in a public school district: when people like this teacher band together they are a terror, and they can drive people from a community. It’s easy to think, especially if we live in cities rather than in America’s small towns, of this sort of Christian domination of the public sphere as de-fanged and therefore a matter of the occasional harmless nitwit misbehaving. But it is always ready to take a more sinister form, if we are not vigilant to its threats.

So, no, I don’t “know” him, and nobody can really step into someone else’s subjectivity anyhow. But he knew right from wrong, and I can’t think that the rationalizations he would offer for himself could possibly be worth a hearing.


I certainly would. It’s a perversion of Christianity.

Perhaps the question we are asking is if people are redeemable. Their heart may hold some evil or malice, but can that heart be changed? I think that is the human quality that we may be looking for, that moment when they realize they are acting like a d-bag and perhaps change their behavior for the better.

Yes, perhaps. But, two things:

(1) I’m always reluctant to ask that question, because the next thing I know, people are telling me I’m a Calvinist, and
(2) I sort of think this is one of those “is human nature inherently violent” questions. Such a question can only be answered either by a mere grunt or by fifty thousand pages of detail which leave the questioner with a lot of new questions.

That said, civilization does not require that everyone be “all in.” We can have a certain amount of d-baggery around. We can have people advocating racism, people advocating authority-based morality systems, people trying to put the state in a position to tell people what to think, et cetera. Nobody’s going to end these things. Guys like this coach will always be with us. What we do need, however, is to keep enough people sufficiently invested in civilization that when it is threatened, it survives. If the object in racial policy were to make sure that there are no Klansmen, that object, however praiseworthy in concept, would never be achieved. If the object is to make the world as un-racist as we can, then THAT object can indeed be productively sought after.

One cannot do this entirely by persuasion. Indeed, when it’s the education system itself which is infected by religious authoritarianism, the persuasion is at least partly running the other way. Just as a peaceful world does require that we take action against those who breach the peace, a just world requires that we take action against those who treat others unjustly. Incentives, both positive and negative, do work. As much as one might like, in concept, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, it’s necessary, in practice, to occasionally beat some people over the head with the Coke bottle instead.

So, in this case, what do you teach to make people change their ways? It’s certainly true that some people understand the deeper truth: that freedom of individual conscience is not expressed, but suppressed, when people use the authority of the state to impose their particular views upon others. We need more people to understand that. I know Mormons who think – within two centuries of the infamous “extermination order,” for crying out loud – that they, together with others who agree with them about certain principles of Christian morality, ought to be able to put religion into the schools. A bit of reflection on WHY there was an “extermination order” in the first place might persuade them that this isn’t actually the best idea.

So, perhaps we need to do a better job of teaching history, in order to bring more people to the defense of civilized values. But that’s never going to achieve unanimity, and I think that we should not withhold harsh judgment from those who seek to undermine civilized values and substitute their own particular orthodoxy for them. I certainly don’t think we should strain to find some sort of way of excusing their behavior. We do need to UNDERSTAND it; but the same is true of understanding the views of terrorists, and for pretty much the same reasons.


This coach was a celebrity with the children and the parents. He would go to the 50 yard line after the game and do his theatrics, the crowd loved it. And once FFRF complained, he got even more support from Liberty Counsel and just about everybody in town. This wasn’t about prayer, or religious freedom. This was about Christian privilege.

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And that’s the thing. This isn’t done in good faith. It is done clearly in order to ram it down the throats of the unwilling. The viciousness of it, when seen up close, is absolutely horrifying.

We have some horrible small towns here in Washington State. I spent a semester in one of them, as a high schooler, and it felt like I had died and gone to hell. Conveniently, this was also what everyone let me know was going to happen eventually.


Agreed. I have often shared those “private prayer” scriptures with other Christians and some get very upset with me. Some even start pontificating about how the Founding Fathers created “freedom of religion not freedom from religion” and then I have to explain why that doesn’t really apply to such situations. (I indeed do have freedom of religion rights under the Constitution but they end if my pushing them gets too much in someone else’s face.)

I also like to ask people what they think is accomplished by public prayer theatrics. Is God MORE impressed. (As you pointed out, Jesus said exactly the opposite.) Are people impressed? Yes, but only those who see it as a “tribal privilege” show of their own rights as a majority (or former majority in some cases.)

I remember long ago when a teacher announced to our class (in a public school) that the Supreme Court had just ruled to end student-led and teacher-led prayer before our lunch. After that day lots of students continued to pray privately and so did some of the teachers. I thought that that was fine. Nothing was lost. The Supreme Court simply pushed back the line to accommodate more fairly the rights of others. The sum total of “aggregate freedom” in our community at lunch remained unchanged. Some lost a little bit of inappropriate “privilege” to have their traditions honored every day while others were granted the simply right to not have to participate in a group prayer which didn’t mean anything to them anyway. (I’ve often asked my Christian associates, “Does the Bible say that God is happy when someone simply goes through the motions of reverent pray just to fit in?” The Bible specifically states that God is not impressed by empty ritual. He wants sincerity of the will.)

I’ve gotten similar flack from various Christians on various forums because I’m civil with non-theists. They tell me that if I don’t periodically remind everyone that they are going to hellfire and eternal brimstone, I’m a worthless Christian. I tell them that the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 warned about people who are prone to speak piously and without love: They become “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Of course, people who sound like “clanging cymbals” either get ignored or actively shunned.

Whenever someone asserts undo privilege due to the power of tradition or the power of a majority group, I also worry what happens when traditions or demographics change. For example, if the majority population of a community shifts to Moslem, will the Christians be content with Islamic prayers and Islamic displays of piety? Double-standards? What if a Moslem football coach in some of those Michigan suburbs with significant Islamic populations started taking his prayer rug onto the field and singing the call to prayer like a mu’azzin?

To me, public theater runs the risk of cheapening genuine religious devotion. It also can create an impression that one must carryout public displays of piety in order to be fully accepted in the community. (That is, if you do NOT cooperate, people may ask “Are you truly a part of our community?” or “What’s wrong with you?” Unacceptable–especially where children are involved.)


The Law of the Conservation of D-Baggery is in many ways comparable to the Conservation of Mass-Energy (though only the latter is described in most physics books.) If one kind of d-baggery is suppressed, an equal quantity of d-baggery erupts elsewhere in the system so that the sum total remains unchanged.

This law helps explain Hollywood celebrity culture, campus fraternities, and Washington beltway politics.

One clarifying note, though: it matters a great deal whether you are clothed with the authority of the state. As an individual, you can push them in other people’s faces as much as you like, short of trespassing, harassment, assault and the like. The big issue legally comes when you have a job with a governmental body – then, within the scope of your work, you can’t push those views in anyone else’s face at all without it being a potential problem. Of course, in your off-hours you can still do the rest of it if you like.

That, to me, is always the thought that comes to mind. Of course they would be outraged. And this would be about the only topic on which I could agree with them – but I might just shrug my shoulders and say, “well, you guys did it last week. You created the problem, now live with it.” Sometimes you just have to let people learn the consequences of their actions the hard way.

My sense is that a lot of these people don’t really subscribe to any sort of constitutional ethic. They are, in fact, the reason we have a constitution. Just as constitutional monarchy arose because the alternative was despotism, so constitutional democracy arose because the alternative was mob rule (or, if you like a Russian turn of phrase, the “dictatorship of the proletariat”). But why should people feel that because they are in the majority, they have the right to decide things for others, without constraint from reaching into any particularly private aspects of thought or behavior?

My view is that they get their bad moral habits from their god. I’ve had so many very saddening conversations with people who have got it into their heads that their god, on account of its might, is the arbiter of right and wrong. When it is pointed out that this god doesn’t always behave morally, they insist that as their god is the author of all morality, it is by definition moral, no matter how immoral the examination of its actions shows it to be. There’s no room between that, philosophically, and a simple assertion that might makes right; and if might makes right, then majoritarianism is a better principle than constitutionalism.


I’m not convinced it’s not increasing :slight_smile:

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