After years of legal fights, a coach who was fired for praying on the field kneels before the start of the game

September 3, 2023

In a case that caught the nation's attention last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Washington state high school assistant football coach's habit of publicly praying after games was protected by the Constitution, and this weekend, he was finally able to exercise that right once again.

Joe Kennedy, after leading his Bremerton High School football team to a 27-12 victory against visiting Mount Douglas Secondary School on Friday night, walked alone to midfield, knelt, and prayed for about 10 seconds, as the Associated Press reported.

Kennedy prayed alone on the largely deserted field, and the Memorial Stadium crowd offered faltering applause.

Back on The Field

Although there were police and private security guards present, the event went off without any issue. This came after seven years of fighting, and after Kennedy was finally rehired.

After saying that he was nervous about the game because “Knowing that everybody’s expecting me to go do this kind of gives me a lot of angst in my stomach,” Kennedy said before the game. “People are going to freak out that I’m bringing God back into public schools.”

It was his first game back in charge since the school district put him on leave and didn't renew his contract in 2015.

Administrators asserted that allowing Kennedy to pray publicly after games would violate the separation of church and state, so they asked him to keep any on-field praying non-demonstrative or separate from students.

The argument over whether or not Kennedy should be reinstated as a government employee swiftly became a cultural touchstone, pitting the religious freedom of government workers against established norms against religious pressure in the classroom.

How the Case was Won

The coach's case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court where the majority eventually sided with Kennedy.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the conservative majority, agreed with the plaintiff's appeals, stating that “the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

Kennedy's life changed in ways he couldn't have predicted as a result of the legal battle.

His new book, titled Average Joe, will be published in October, and a number of book launch parties will be held in his honor. He attended a Trump rally in 2016 and recently had dinner with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who has sought his support.

“He’s like, ‘I want you to be on my faith advisory board.’ And I’m like, ‘Let me get back to you on that,’” Kennedy recalled.

The coach continued, “And he just invited me to Iowa, and he calls me and he says, ‘Hey, I really need to know, are you in my camp or not?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry. My loyalty is to Trump.’”

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