UPDATE: Joe Kennedy resigned as assistant football coach at Bremerton High School Sept. 6 in order to help his wife care for her ailing father who lives in Florida. In June 2022, the Supreme Court ordered Kennedy’s reinstatement as coach following his firing in 2015 for refusing to stop praying at midfield after football games.
More than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that a Washington state high school football coach could pray silently at the 50-yard line after games, Joe Kennedy returned to midfield and knelt in prayer following Bremerton High School’s season debut on Sept. 1.
“The only thing I could just say is ‘Thank You,’ over and over, to God,” Kennedy told Decision magazine. “I had no other words. I was just so overwhelmed with gratitude. Eight years I’ve been fighting for this. I must have said it 30 times, ‘Thank You, Lord, thank You.’”
From 2008 to 2015, Kennedy, who had served previously in the Marine Corps, was the junior varsity head football coach and assistant varsity coach at Bremerton High School.
As Kennedy concluded his 15-second prayer, more than 1,000 onlookers erupted in applause.
“It was such a perfect night to bring God back into our public schools,” Kennedy said. “This is just the beginning of America turning back toward God instead of turning their back on God.”
Following football games on dozens of high school campuses across the country, students, faculty, staff and their families participated in the #TakeAKneeWithCoach and #FirstFreedomChallenge initiative sponsored by First Liberty Institute, the religious liberty law firm based in Plano, Texas, that represented Kennedy.
Kennedy said he hopes that high schools will increasingly begin observing a moment of prayerful silence before football games. His memoir, Average Joe—One Man’s Faith and The Fight to Change a Nation, is scheduled for release in October by Salem Books. “There is hope and there is power in standing up,” he said. “Hopefully, my story will inspire other people to stand up.”
In last year’s 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the court’s majority opinion, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Gorsuch stated. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Kennedy cited 2 Timothy 4:7 as his Biblical command and inspiration for persevering through a lengthy court battle to protect Americans’ First Amendment rights.
“We fought the good fight, and we finished the race, and we have remained faithful,” he said.
Photo: Courtesy of First Liberty Institute