Joseph Kennedy served the United States as a Marine for eighteen years. After returning home from his military service, he became a football coach at a local public school in Washington, Bremerton High. After his first football game at Bremerton ended, now Coach Kennedy walked to the 50-yard line and knelt down to say a prayer of thanksgiving. He knelt there for about 20 seconds in silent conversation with God.
Coach Kennedy continued this practice throughout his career as coach of the Bremerton Knights football team. For seven years, he knelt in prayer after each game.
Then, in 2015, an employee of another school complained to the principal of Bremerton about what Kennedy was doing. An administrator of the school spoke with Coach and let him know that he was no longer going to be employed by the school because of his religious practice. A Facebook post from Kennedy read, “I think I just might have been fired for praying.”
Guest host Brooke Taylor hosted Coach Joe Kennedy on The Cale Clarke Show to talk about the case and explain its significance in the context of religious freedom and the freedom of speech.
“It was my covenant with God,” said Kennedy of his post-game ritual. “I wanted to give thanks after every football game. That’s all it was, was thanking God for the opportunity to be there and to be able to be a coach, and to be a part of these kids’ lives.”
Coach Kennedy never announced a post-game prayer or talk, and he never coerced any player, student or staff member to participate with him. He made it clear to the students that they weren’t required to pray with him. It’s a free country and they could do as they pleased. Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly moving that other people would voluntarily join him in worship.
But eventually, the school told him that he was allowed to pray, but he could no longer pray with the students or give them motivational speeches that mentioned religion or God. As unfortunate as that was, Kennedy acquiesced. He had to do it alone.
After some time passed, another complaint was filed to the school about his practice. The school cracked down even harder, saying that Coach Kennedy could no longer pray on the field, a visible, public space. That shouldn’t sit right with anyone.
Coach Kennedy’s stories made global news as a blatant attack on religious freedom and freedom of expression. While it may have just seemed like a football coach was getting let go, the context reveals an insidious pattern in the public school system.
As Brooke pointed out, education has been perverted by secularism. Kids are being exposed to sexually explicit books, drag queens, and racial sensitivity training, but if a teacher wears a scapular to show their devotion, they can be fired for religious expression. The world seems like it has been turned upside down.
Fortunately, in Kennedy’s case, people recognized his plight. News travels fast and far these days and he almost immediately garnered support from people all over the world. Kennedy did interviews non-stop, even for outlets in countries like Sweden, because he is seen as a champion of freedom. People saw that he was a man unwilling to bow out of this fight and he just needs support to get a win for all of us.
For over seven years, Coach Kennedy and his family had to fight legal battles against a school district that they were very much a part of. His two kids attended Bremerton High and his wife was the human resources director of the very school district they were suing. This was the eighth football season that Kennedy has been unable to participate in with his athletes because of the termination.
However, thanks be to God, the fight is over. On June 27th, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Coach Joe Kennedy. The decision, penned by Justice Gorsuch explained that Kennedy was not acting as an employee of the school, nor did he coerce students to participate when he chose to privately pray after football games. Therefore, the decision read, “Kennedy’s private religious exercise did not come close to crossing any line one might imagine separating protected private expression from impermissible government coercion.”
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Featured image credit: First Liberty Institute