In 2015, a Bremerton High School fired its football coach for quietly praying on the football field after games. Members of Coach Kennedy’s team often knelt beside him and joined in silent prayer. Kennedy also invited the opposing teams pray alongside them and began giving speeches after the games that included religious ideas.
The Bremerton School District notified Coach Kennedy that he was under investigation for allegedly breaking the “Religious-Related Activities and Practices” policy. Kennedy requested a religious accommodation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the school denied him this right.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear the coach’s case in Kennedy v. Bremerton School Board, which could impact religious freedom throughout the country.
To support Coach Kennedy and protect religious freedom, FPIW has signed onto an amicus brief to be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. The main argument within the brief is that Kennedy was not speaking on behalf of the school when he knelt in silent prayer.
“When Joseph Kennedy knelt at the 50-yard line to say a brief personal prayer of thanksgiving, he did not do so as a mouthpiece for the school district. His personal religious expression—as opposed to any earlier conduct he discontinued as soon as the district asked him—was about as far removed from government speech as a coach and teacher can get while still on school premises. It was thus doubly safeguarded by the First Amendment, as both protected speech and protected religious exercise,” reads the brief.
The brief goes on to argue that the school cannot lay claim to the coach’s speech simply because he was still on campus. “To conclude otherwise would be to license schools to engage in unbridled censorship and to send a message of hostility to religion all in the name of controlling ‘government speech.’”
The question at hand in this case is whether a school is endorsing religion by not silencing private religious speech on campus, including the religious expression of teachers and coaches. In order to preserve the liberty that our country was founded on, the answer to this question must be no.
The brief also explains that the government of a nation founded on religious liberty must expect that some teachers, coaches, and students will be religious and feel the need to express that religion privately, though visibly. And it is their constitutional right to do so.
Our faith is meant to be shared. In fact, we have a duty to do so. We must not allow the government to confine prayer to the places that it deems appropriate. Christ calls us to “pray without ceasing,” and regardless of where we may be, we must respond to this call (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
This case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to protect the religious expression of all coaches, teachers, and role models. It’s vital that our children are guided by principled leaders who express their faith and encourage them to do the same.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Prayer is the most important action we can take that can unify (and save) our state and nation. Bringing people back to Christ is what we need to do if we are to save our nation, and it starts with prayer. Whether he knew it or not, Coach Joe Kennedy was bringing people back to Christ on that football field—away from the Devil’s control. We must imitate Coach Kennedy but also be wise as serpents. For the Devil hates prayer and will do anything, including corrupting school leaders, elected officials, and judges to stop us from praying to God, in Jesus’s name, for help.
This Lenten season, while we pray, we must also commit to normalizing prayer in Washington State everywhere and at times. Please pray for the success of our amicus brief and that the Supreme Court rules in favor of our right to pray to God for help, and to bring people back to Christ and to true salvation.