In a decision remarkable mainly for how little effort the majority put in to convince us it even cared about the facts of the case, the conservative Supreme Court gave the go-ahead last week for schools to elevate religious zealotry alongside children's sports programs. The basic reasoning is conservative from top to bottom; the worst Christian person you know must have the right to make themselves a destructive public nuisance everywhere they happen to go, whereas The Children have no rights at all, not one, and must abide whatever the adults have in store for them.
The party of Jim Jordan and, well, Florida, is very clear on that last point and gets very prickly if you suggest otherwise. The Children must learn about conservative ideologies in schools, and must absolutely not learn anything their parents might object to. No learning about America's systemic racism; no learning what a uterus is; no learning about the existence of Jews, Muslims, Black authors, families with two moms, spouses in general, or rainbows.Campaign Action
School football coaches, however, have generally been immune to such pressures. This is mostly because nobody thinks high school football coaches are in danger of teaching their kids a single damn thing, but it's also because there's no small town in America where parents' sole evening entertainment plans revolve around smuggling six packs into school stadiums to yell slurs at, for example, spelling bee contestants.
If the AP Biology teacher gets caught teaching children about the Forbidden Organs, there's no parent group that will launch itself into action to save them. If the school's athletic director gets caught raffling off tickets that allow the winner to hit the shower with his team of underage boys, then calls for justice will be responded to during school board meetings with feverish parent concerns about how the punishment might affect the team's winning season.
We're this close to the championships, after all. Is now really the time to rock the boat?
Well, I too am a parent, and I too have something to object to. I object to your religious practices, sports coaches that make a show of public prayer during school sports events. Your religion is wrong. Your religious beliefs are garbage, and you're a garbage person for having them. And, most importantly, I don't want my child or any of America's children to be anywhere near you.
Stop grooming our children, you freaks. Stop indoctrinating them to believe that the God they should believe in is a vapid entity that throws high school sports games based on the whims of abusive authority figures. Stop teaching them that God is a slot machine for them to put quarters in.
I don't care what religious sect you belong to: If you're leading children in prayer on the 50-yard line, your religion sucks. I don't care what you call God or how many gods you believe in; if you're leading a prayer on the field that ties the outcomes of sporting events to how the deities feel that evening, what is wrong with you.
Teaching kids about the history of lynching in America is not "grooming" them. Teaching our kids the formalities of praying in your religion is absolutely "grooming" them, and is in fact grooming them to be the worst kind of religious charlatans. Performative. Public. Hollow-headed. Insincere. Trivial.
Whatever your religion might be, you have no right to suggest to everyone else's children that if the sportball of the day did not go into the right net or hoop or zone it is because God did that. If you are teaching children how to hit other children as hard as possible while wearing worn-out protective gear that may or may not even fit them, you do not get to claim that an injured child is the result of God intervening to hurt them. Seriously: What the hell is wrong with you?
The role of Our Lord Almighty in American sports is a long and shady one, probably because many devoted sports fans are uninterested in any injustices around them that do not involve the team they are rooting for. But it always goes in one direction: God is always praised for making the Good team win, but is never grumbled about when the Good team loses.
You never hear a post-game interview in which a kicker says "yeah, I would have totally nailed that field goal but God screwed me. He totally moved my foot wrong at the last moment." You never hear a high school coach telling his team "Well, that was a great game but it turns out God doesn't love you. You should probably go home and reflect on that a bit."
The moment you are invoking an almighty deity as the guiding force behind how the evening's sports match turned out, you're grooming all the children forced to listen to you to believe that God is a vapid and bored entity that may not care about genocide or natural disaster, but absolutely has a stake in local team sports.
The children who belong to every religion that is better than yours, and that includes all of the atheist children, have every right to have you not insult their own religious beliefs by interjecting vapid, empty-brained thoughts like that.
If your school has just been the scene of a mass shooting and you, as an authority figure, announce to the children in your care that it is because God wanted their friends dead, I am going to personally book an airplane ticket, fly to your house, and punch you in the face. If your school is down three points in the fourth quarter and you call a risky play that results in an interception, then there are a hundred factors that have led to that outcome that are all more consequential than God deciding which children he loves best. I don't want my child or anybody else's child to hear your impotent, self-promoting bleating about how God shares the blame.
It is offensive! Genuinely offensive! How dare you groom my child to believe that the Creator of All Things is a pachinko machine that you toss prayers into and test your luck!
Football coach religion is the worst religion on the planet, and it doesn't matter which religion they belong to or how often they attend. Football coach religion is always, each and every time, terrible. It is inherently cultish.
It is also inherently coercive. This is such an obvious fact that it by itself proves the Supreme Court majority to be dishonest and hackish; a Supreme Court that claims it cannot possibly deduce how the school's most visible authority figure (especially in all the towns that have so few authority figures that "high school football coach" automatically gets bumped to near the top of their list) might be pressuring students to pray in the manner of his own religion rather than their own—that shows such clownish contempt for fact-finding that it should justify impeachment all on its own.
Did you know that different Christian denominations say the most famous Christian prayer differently, with different words? Many children find this out when they are obliged to offer a prayer in a public or semi-public setting and oops, find out that the words everyone else are tediously chanting aren't the same ones coming out of their own mouths. It's a bit of an awkward moment, to be sure, and one that is not likely to become less awkward when you are surrounded by peers whose main defining characteristic is that they are meatier and more aggressive than the rest of the class.
What will you do then? Will you bend the knee as the coach does, rather than as you were taught? Will you say his words, and not your own? Will you break your own religious belief that prayers should not be done for public show or for vapid, self-serving reasons in order to fit in with the compulsive grown man who makes every decision on who gets to play, and in what positions, and for how long?
That is what every child must decide, as they are groomed by a religious zealot who believes their own religious practices naturally supersede that of every other person on the field and in the stands. And if the coach is zealot enough to believe that, and to impose public pressure on children he holds power over so that they'll comply, that dude is not a football coach. He's just an aspiring cult leader who's lucked into his own captive audience.
American parents have every right to expect that their children, attending public school, will not face public pressure to adhere to a particular old coot's personal religious beliefs. We have every right to expect that public school officials will not teach our children to pray to an audience rather in private, and will not suggest to them that a deity each child may or may not believe in is Actually the force that controls each child's successes in at least equal proportion to their own hard work and choices. Get bent. Get out of here with that garbage.
I'm not worried about my child stumbling onto a book about Ruby Bridges and turning to a life of crime. But there's no way in hell I'd willingly leave my child alone for 10 minutes with a coach like that.
I don't care what religion my child chooses to be, just as long as they don't grow up praying to the God of Endzones and Conveniently Timed Knee Injuries. Three-quarters of American religious faith can be boiled down to that, and it doesn't need any help.
So there you go, Supreme Court conservatives who believe authority figures ought to be able to preach to children in a manner that displays those children's reactions for public view and possible community retaliation. I, an Actual Parent, am lodging an objection. You have violated my religion by exposing my child to a different religion which is in every way inferior, primitive, and stupid.
Since the decision was reached by lying about what was going on, however, we can assume that whatever religious beliefs Supreme Court conservatives might hold are demonstrably worse than even that of abusive football coaches, which takes some doing. Perhaps we could get some better Americans to take those reins. Perhaps even a few Americans whose religious beliefs do not specifically hinge on being able to pressure public school students into going along with their petty public stunts.