Bremerton HS students invite satanists to oppose praying coach

At the invitation of the Bremerton High School senior class president, Lilith Starr says that her group of self-described Satanists will attend the school's football game Thursday to protest a decision by a Christian coach to continue praying at the 50-yard line after games. - AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

BREMERTON — When the Bremerton BREMERTON — When the Bremerton Knights take the field against Sequim on Thursday, a group of Satanists dressed in ceremonial robes will be watching from the stands.

The members of The Satanic Temple of Seattle say they are coming to the game to advocate for religious equality, in light of the controversy sparked by Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, who has threatened to sue the school district if he is not allowed to pray on the field after games.

Bremerton School District spokeswoman Patty Glaser confirmed Wednesday the district has received a request from the Satanic Temple asking to be allowed access to the field after the game for a ceremony. The district is working on a statement in response, Glaser said.

The Satanists aren’t coming uninvited. Two Bremerton High School students responded to a public offer made by the Temple this week to give an invocation at the game and asked the Satanists to attend.

The two students had different motivations for contacting the Satanists, but both said they wanted to emphasize the need for equal religious opportunity at their school. They believe if the district allows prayer on the football field after games, people of all faiths should be allowed to participate.

“The school district needs to create religious opportunity for everyone or ban it completely,” said Abe Bartlett, senior class president and one of the students who contacted the Satanic Temple. “There can’t be a middle ground.”

Bartlett said he was aware of Kennedy’s tradition of praying after games and wasn’t concerned with the coach’s actions in the past. “No harm no foul,” as Bartlett put it. He believed Kennedy’s intentions were good, at least to begin with. But Bartlett’s feelings changed as Kennedy moved toward legal action against the district this week.

“I think that crossed a line,” Bartlett said. “That’s when I felt the need to contact The Satanic Temple.”

Bartlett hopes the appearance by the Satanists will prompt action by the school district. He expects to receive backlash from some members of the community over his decision to contact the Temple, but he believes most will understand his motivation.

“I want to do what’s best with the kids at this point,” Bartlett said. “And not just what’s best for Joe Kennedy.”

It was national media coverage of the controversy that drove the other Bremerton High School student to respond to The Satanist Temple. The student asked to remain anonymous, fearing backlash from the community, but responded to questions Wednesday in an email to the Kitsap Sun.

“The portrayal of Joe Kennedy by Fox News as a would-be hero is definitely a reason why I’m frustrated,” the student, a self-described atheist, said. “Once Fox News covered us, we appear in the Seattle Times, all over atheist and Christian rights websites; our school is notorious for one man, despite our success in lowering dropout rates, student achievements, etc. It’s national coverage for a local school that I feel was doing pretty well.”

The student said the district didn’t go far enough to block Kennedy from praying. Like Bartlett, the student thinks inviting Satanists to pray at the game will help hasten a resolution.

“I hope the attention from outside interests will finally get all people to realize that this is why prayer and religion isn’t allowed in public schools or by public school officials,” the student said. “I’m quite exhausted with progress that we haven’t made, so it’s time to change strategies. Protesting won’t cut it.”

Bartlett said controversy over prayer at the school has sparked some healthy conversations between teachers and students. In some classes, he said the situation has been used as an opportunity to discuss the First Amendment and the polarized national debate over religion in schools.

That said, he hopes the maelstrom will die down after Thursday’s game, and life at Bremerton High can return to normal.

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