Joe Kennedy never expected to face a lawsuit for something as simple as praying.
But the atheist left has attacked his religious rights without hesitation.
And the struggle has revealed exactly which states support religious freedom. Some of them might surprise you.
Kennedy is a Marine Corps veteran who has turned to football coaching as a way to mentor young men.
A devout Christian, Kennedy has always made a point of praying on the football field after each game.
It’s a way to remind himself of the One Who allows him to coach and play.
When students first asked what Kennedy was doing after each game, he responded, “I was thanking God for you guys.”
The students responded positively, with some even asking to join their coach’s prayer routine!
“I responded, ‘It’s a free country, you can do whatever you want to do,’” Kennedy admitted.
And that’s when the trouble started.
Kennedy’s school district quickly got wind of the prayer routine and officials weren’t happy.
“As a matter of individual liberty…school staff shall neither encourage nor discourage a student from engaging in non-disruptive oral or silent prayer or any form of devotional activity,” said Superintendent Aaron Leavell.
Leavell and other school officials claimed that Coach Kennedy was forcing his students to pray—even though this was blatantly false!
When officials ordered Kennedy to stop praying, he stood up for his freedom and continued his prayer routine after each game.
“I’m going to do what I’ve always done and I will do my prayer,” the coach asserted.
It wasn’t long before Kennedy faced a permanent suspension from the school district—a turn of events that distressed many advocates of religious freedom around the country.
“School bureaucrats should stop discriminating against people of faith engaging in completely voluntary prayer,” said Melody Wood, an employee of the Heritage Foundation.
“Coaches, students, and teachers don’t lose their religious freedom the second they step onto school grounds.”
“The school district violated federal law by denying Coach Kennedy’s request for religious accommodation,” agreed Mike Berry, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to defending religious liberty.
“Their violation of the law cannot go answered.”
Kennedy was “devastated” at the threats and accusations he faced from the school district.
All he wanted to do was encourage his players and live out his faith authentically.
“I love my players and I hope I can continue coaching them and being a part of their lives,” he said.
But in order to do that, he would need to stand up for his rights.
So, with the help of Liberty Institute and others, Coach Kennedy took his case to the 9th Circuit Court.
The court initially ruled against Kennedy, saying that a football coach should leave their faith behind when he steps onto the field.
This ruling was met with dissension from Constitutional lawyers and judges alike.
Kennedy appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to overturn the ruling, but his petition was denied.
Nevertheless, some Justices had much to say about the issue.
“What is perhaps most troubling about the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is language that can be understood to mean that a coach’s duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.
“I hope that this is not the message that the Ninth Circuit meant to convey, but its opinion can certainly be read that way.”
Encouraged by support from Justices and lawyers, Kennedy appealed his case again, landing another hearing before the 9th Circuit Court.
And with that hearing on the horizon, Kennedy is garnering even more support than he expected!
Twenty-one states have filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs with the court, urging the judge to find favor in Coach Kennedy.
These states know the importance of religious freedom for all Americans and are determined to see justice done!
The list includes Alaska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, and Texas, among others—and it’s a telling reminder of which states will truly stand up for religious liberty.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson explained that his state felt strongly about the case, noting, “The school district’s action demonstrates hostility toward religion.”
“It’s basically saying that public employees cannot exercise their right to worship without fear of losing their jobs.”
Please pray for Coach Kennedy’s case as it comes before the court for a second time!
And praise God for the many states and individuals who are standing alongside him to protect religious freedom for every American.