Praying on the Football Field

April 24, 2022

God & Football

America's highest court hears a case that addresses prayer on the field.
The high stakes and why they matter.

The Backstory:

  • Who: Asst. football coach Joseph Kennedy, Bremerton High School (WA state), prayed on the field after football games.
  • What: He started praying at the 50-yard line during 2008, his first year coaching. At first, he prayed alone; eventually, players joined — incl. those of the opposing team. In 2015, the post-game prayer garnered more attention and included members of the general public.
  • Why: The school district told Kennedy to stop — he did temporarily before resuming. He was then suspended with pay, did not reapply the next year and sued the district.
"I was a Marine for 20 years. Supporting and defending the Constitution means a lot to me.”

Former coach Joe Kennedy says his faith bloomed at a challenging point in his life and marriage; when he had the opportunity to coach, he promised to honor God after each game. He says briefly praying after the game (reportedly 15-20 seconds) is protected under the First Amendment (freedom of speech and religion) but he has lost repeatedly in lower courts. This is his second appeal to the Supreme Court.

“I respect him [Joe] as a man of great integrity, really. I just feel like he’s off-base on this issue. What he’s pushing is an agenda.”

Paul Peterson, father of four students at Bremerton High School, who supports the school district. Prior court rulings have argued that Kennedy, in his role as a coach, represents the school district — and therefore the government. Past legal precedent has favored limiting religious expression by those who officially represent the government — in order to *support* the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Something To Consider:

  • The school district says Kennedy has the right to pray, but not on the field after a school event where other students may feel pressured to join. One student invited a Satanic group to a game to prove that all “religions” must be accepted — or none at all.
  • Some NFL players have supported Kennedy, writing “… if Joe Kennedy had taken a knee to protest racial injustice, the district almost certainly would not have argued that his speech was somehow the state’s. Rather, there would have been no question that it was protected private speech.”

What’s at stake? Precedent about public prayer at school AND whether Kennedy will get his job back. The Washington Post describes the case this way: “It brings vexing questions about the ability of public employees to live out their faith while on duty and the government’s competing responsibility to protect schoolchildren from coercion and to remain neutral on the subject of religion.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case today, but we will not get a decision until June.

After losing his job for praying on the field, ex-high school football coach brings case to Supreme Court

Supreme Court takes up case of a coach and his prayers on 50-yard line

Good short video from Scotus Blog (an excellent source): WATCH

by Jenna Lee,