Joe Kennedy is a coach for the Bremerton High School football team. He is also a former Marine, serving until 2008 when he retired and was hired onto the coaching staff. Since 2008, the high school coach has been participating in a personal end of game ritual: taking a knee at the 50-yard line to pray. According to CBN, while in a phone interview with Lorie Johnson, Kennedy disclosed that it was the movie Facing the Giants that encouraged him to start this tradition.
Kennedy was unsure of how well he would do as a member of the high school football coaching staff, and while ruminating over his decision he happened upon the motivational movie. Being a Christian man, he took it as a sign to move ahead with the position and was motivated to pray and thank God for the players and the game after each game ended. The prayer time began as the coach praying on his own quietly and privately, but when students asked what he was doing he told them. When they asked if they could join him, he said yes. According to The Liberty Institute, he never required or asked his high school team, affiliates or co-workers to be a part of his prayer time.
It was something that even the high school students and players came to embrace and welcome, according to the Seattle Times. Bremerton High’s team captain, Ethan Hacker, is a self proclaimed agnostic and has yet to miss a pre-time prayer telling the syndication, “It’s about unity. We can be mad at each other all we want during a game and get upset, but once the game is over, that all goes away. What (Kennedy) does brings us all together no matter how much we despise each other.” The high school senior’s mother, also agnostic, agrees with her son in this regard. When the school district sent a letter to Kennedy last month demanding he stop praying on the field, Hacker’s mom called it “absolutely ridiculous.”
Many stand behind that statement and many are crying foul on the school administration’s decree. Originally, Kennedy had agreed that he would wait until all parents, students, and audience members left the field before praying. The high school coach originally contacted The American Center for Law and Justice to take up his case to continue praying, but when they refused, he turned to the Liberty Institute. With the Liberty Institute now behind him, Kennedy stated in a press conference that he had changed his mind. He would be taking a knee on the 50-yard line whether or not people were still there.
As it turns out, quite a few people remained. Some were there to see if the high school coach would follow through and some were there to offer support and join with him. The Seattle Times reported that Andy Lancaster came to the game, his first Bremerton High game, for the sole purpose of supporting the coach. Another audience member had said that he hadn’t been to a game in 40 years, but came to pray with Kennedy. State Representative, Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, was in attendance and stood by Kennedy’s side. At the end of the game, true to his word, Kennedy walked to the 50-yard line and bowed his knee. Even the opposing team members joined in the after prayer, making Ethan Hacker’s words all the more poignant.
While Kennedy admits that he is not completely familiar with the constitution, he stated that he has spent his years defending it. The first amendment is what has been cited against Kennedy, and after reading it himself did not see where he was in violation of it. The Liberty Institute has defended that since the prayer was on his own time after the game, it cannot be condemned. The school, however, feels that as long as he is in uniform and until the players have left his care to the care of their guardians, he is not on his own time. Bremerton School District is concerned with the possible overlapse of church and state, while the Liberty Institute and Kennedy are trying to demonstrate the privacy of this act, and his (and any others willingly involved) right to continue as he has.
When asked why he does what he does, Kennedy told Matt Calkins of The Seattle Times, “I tell my kids to be bold in their beliefs. I want to set an example to stand up for what you believe in, even if it isn’t popular.”
What are your thoughts? Is this is an issue to be dealt with and made an example of, or is this a right that Kennedy has and should be allowed to continue?
[Image via The Liberty Institute]