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High school football coach, who prayed publicly, gets support from NFL players in Supreme Court case

Coach Joseph Kennedy
by WorldTribune Staff, March 4, 2022

A group current and former NFL players have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Joseph Kennedy, who was fired as Bremerton High School (Washington state) football coach for holding a private prayer on the 50-yard-line after games.

Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and former players Joe DeLamielleure, Phil Olsen, Christian Ponder, Drew Stanton, Harry Swayne and Jack Youngblood were the players attached to the filing.

"Each amicus attended and played football for at least one public high school or university before turning pro," the brief stated. "Each amicus also voluntarily exercised his constitutional right to pray before, during, and after games in which he competed on behalf of such schools – at times alone, at times with other players, and at times with coaches. Each amicus thus has first-hand experience with the environment in which this case arose. And each amicus can testify firsthand to the power of prayer – in generating gratitude for the opportunity to play, promoting high ideals of sportsmanship, protecting the safety of those who take the field, bridging personal, political, and racial divides among players, and ultimately in glorifying God.

"For all these reasons, amici support protection for the free speech rights of public school coaches like Joe Kennedy."

Kennedy's case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court this spring.

Related: Can a private citizen pray in public? Supreme Court to hear case of coach sidelined 6 years ago, January 16, 2022

“Six years away from the football field has been far too long. I am extremely grateful that the Supreme Court is going to hear my case and pray that I will soon be able to be back on the field coaching the game and players I love,” Kennedy said in a statement.

In a statement issued in January after the court agreed to hear the case, Kelly Shackelford, the head of First Liberty Institute, which is representing Kennedy, said, "No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public."

"By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment," Shackelford said.

The head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the school district, said it had followed the law, calling Kennedy’s actions "coercive prayers."

"This case is not about a school employee praying silently during a private religious devotion. Rather, this case is about protecting impressionable students who felt pressured by their coach to participate repeatedly in public prayer, and a public school district that did right by its students and families," Rachel Laser said in a statement.

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