Sports Illustrated didn’t wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending opinion to blast a high school football coach Joe Kennedy who sued after being suspended and later fired for praying for 15 seconds on the football field after a game.
Joe Kennedy had served for years as an assistant coach for the Bremerton High School (BHS) varsity football team in the state of Washington. He had taken a knee and prayed briefly after every game since 2008; after several games, students asked if they could join him and even asked if players from the opposing teams could join them.
“This is a free country. … You can do what you want,” Kennedy told them, as First Liberty, which represents Kennedy, noted.
In 2015, after an employee from another high school mentioned Kennedy praying to the BHS principal, an administrator mentioned their disapproval to Kennedy, prompting him to write on Facebook “I think I just might have been fired for praying.”
In September 2015, the district set new guidelines for Kennedy, saying he could “engage in religious activity, including prayer, so long as it does not interfere with job responsibilities,” the activity was ““physically separate from any student activity, and students (are) not … allowed to join such activity.”
The district added that ““such activity should either be non-demonstrative (i.e. not outwardly discernible as religious activity) if students are also engaged in religious conduct, or it should occur while students are not engaging in such conduct.”
Kennedy stopped having group prayers. After the next game ended, he waited until everyone had left the game, then returned to the field and prayed alone.
By late October, after Kennedy had gone back-and-forth with the district about him praying on the field, the district placed Kennedy on administrative leave.
Kennedy and First Liberty filed suit in 2016 asking the district to allow him to coach while the case went through the courts; the district refused.
The District Court, then the Ninth Circuit, denied the request. In January 2022, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.
Sports Illustrated wrote that those backing Kennedy have a more nefarious purpose, claiming that he is a “human embodiment of a country that’s deeply divided; a religious movement that’s surging with momentum, even as organized religion becomes increasingly less popular; and, most of all, a powerful right-wing machine many say is employing a timeless division tactic: us vs. them.”
SI quotes the lead lawyer for Bremerton School District and the president/CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Rachel Laser, writing, “That’s what this case is about. A movement that is so determined they are not willing to stop. They are willing to destroy our democracy to achieve their ends.”
Laser and three scholars argue that the supposed “movement” ‘is backed by a billion-dollar industry that brands its argument not under ‘Christian nationalism but the more palatable ‘religious freedom.’” SI writes, adding that “Laser (and three scholars) say that’s part of the disinformation campaign.”
Laser says some of the groups that have filed an amicus brief supporting Kennedy represent a “who’s who of religious extremists in this country.”
“If/when SCOTUS rules for him (Kennedy), it will add steam to a movement that threatens to force religious views—no matter how unpopular or ethically dubious—and alter the lives of those who don’t practice that specific faith,” SI pontificates.
“Does Kennedy know? Does he care?” SI mocks. “Or did he evolve to embrace playing the ‘hero,’ and having this large of a purpose? Maybe the political operatives who stood with him found the perfect mark, a man in search of a calling, a grand stage. … this saga of faith-and-football now reads like Kennedy’s own Christian football movie. He’s the hero. He wins, and for everyone on his side.”