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Ruth: A Republican who did his job

Kurt Browning simply reminded coaches it is illegal for them to organize or lead prayers.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Kurt Browning simply reminded coaches it is illegal for them to organize or lead prayers.

In recent days Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning has been vilified, accused of being anti-Christian and even un-American. His seditious crime? Browning fulfilled his oath of office.

Oh, the Agenda 21 of it all!

We all know athletes praying before a game is a deeply entrenched tradition in America's sports culture, although it does seem a bit odd to implore God's forbearance shortly before taking to the gridiron in the hopes of beating the living daylights out of the other team. But since it worked so well during the Crusades, why not for the Pasco High School fighting and praying Pirates?

But there was a problem. While there is nothing legally preventing the players themselves from indulging in pre-game invocations and postgame vespers, coaches are prohibited from organizing and leading them in either. Browning fired off a memo to the district's football coaches reminding them it was illegal to organize and conduct the pigskin supplications. And that was when the halo hit the fan.

Soon Browning was being hammered on social media outlets for intervening in the will of the Lord. He was reminded that prayer is a wonderful thing and accused of intimidating people of faith. Even Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford managed to pry himself away from blocking Medicaid benefits to about a million uninsured Floridians to channel his inner Joe McCarthy by suggesting the ban on coaches leading hosannas was "un-American."

Then the speaker wondered aloud that maybe Tallahassee ought to change the law.

Browning could have pulled a Weatherford. He could have pandered. He could have looked the other way, avoided all the hysterical grief, the attacks on his integrity and spirituality. It would have been easy to simply let the coaches lead the prayers. This was Pasco County. Who would care?

He couldn't do that. He would know.

"I am superintendent of schools. I took an oath that I was going to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the United States and the laws of Florida," Browning explained. "Oftentimes those laws and personal beliefs are in conflict."

How radical. How beyond the pale — an elected official fulfilling his oath of office even at the risk of alienating the people who elected him.

It's worth noting Browning never said the athletes couldn't do all the Tebowing they want — just as long as the coaches weren't presiding over the services.

There's a lesson to be learned here for the pols way up there in Washington, the land of bilk and money, where a contrived government shutdown slouches toward fiscal perdition in part because a feckless junior senator from Texas aspires to be adopted by a Koch brother.

Conventional wisdom holds that there are many Republicans who believe putting hundreds of thousands of federal workers out on the street and locking the doors to government agencies is sheer stupidity. But these same Republicans have gone along with transforming the nation into the United States of Dogpatch because they have been bullied into fearing they'll lose their cushy jobs in a primary election challenge when they are confronted by a tea party-backed opponent.

Instead of cowering, they should follow the example of Kurt Browning, a good man, a loyal Republican, a dedicated public servant who is willing to risk the wrath of the body politic for doing the right thing. Browning has enjoyed a well-earned reputation for being an able, honest public servant, first as Pasco's supervisor of elections and later Florida secretary of state.

Elected Pasco superintendent in 2012, Browning doesn't have to face the voters until 2016, giving him time to more fully explain to his constituents arcane stuff like the Constitution.

But that still doesn't mean that when re-election time rolls around Browning still won't face an opportunistic opponent who will dredge up "Prayer-gate" in an attempt to inaccurately cast him as the infidel of Pasco County only because he enforced the law and honored his oath of office.

It's the same basic oath members of Congress take, too. They ought to re-read it now and then — and think of fellow Republican Kurt Browning.

Ruth: A Republican who did his job 10/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 7, 2013 7:17pm]

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