Coach Kennedy Prays at the 50 Yard Line

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Family Action filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Coach Joseph Kennedy, who was fired from  Bremerton School District in Washington State after he prayed briefly at the 50-yard line.

For years, Kennedy would pray very briefly by himself following football games. At one point, students became curious about what he was doing. When asked if they could join, he told them it was a free country, and they could do what they wanted. As time went on, more and more students and even coaches from other teams joined in.

After nearly half the team began to participate in these short prayers, the school told him he could no longer pray publicly. Kennedy initially obeyed the order, but later believed it violated his freedoms of speech and religion. He felt responsible to thank God for the games in that way. So, he continued to pray, and as a result, lost his job. 

Believing his termination to be illegal, Kennedy, represented by our friends at First Liberty, appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but subsequently lost. The U.S. Court of Appeals suggested that Coach Kennedy was a bad example to the students when he prayed. Treating such prayers with contempt conflicts with the religion clauses of our constitution, which protect our religious diversity.

At issue before the Supreme Court is whether Coach Kennedy has speech and religious rights to pray briefly in public, and whether the Establishment Clause trumps those rights.

The Supreme Court’s modern interpretation of the Establishment Clause has been premised on the notion that religious pluralism requires neutrality. But the effect at schools like Bremerton School District has not been neutrality; it is only singling out religious speech—among all other kinds of controversial speech — as the only speech worthy of punishment.

We all suffer when our First Amendment freedoms are violated. Religious speech should not be singled-out for punishment in a free and diverse society. A short prayer following a game, joined in only by those who want to, hardly amounts to an establishment of religion, particularly when the school was clear that the district itself had nothing to do with Kennedy’s activities.

As a nation built on Christian principles, we can and must do better. Our constitution does not require us to abandon our religious traditions. The Establishment Clause does not require schools to fire a coach like Joseph Kennedy just because he said a small prayer after a football game. 

The issue in this case isn’t whether we approve of prayer or whether we would do what Coach Kennedy did if we were in his shoes. At issue here is whether any of us have freedom if Coach Kennedy can be silenced. And if he can be silenced, anyone can.

Wisconsin Family Action is honored to help support Coach Kennedy. Please pray for him and his family for strength and peace as their case goes before the Supreme Court. 

May the Lord grant him favor in the eyes of the Justices and cause them to deliver a fair ruling. And may Coach Kennedy’s godly testimony be used to win souls for Christ.

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