COMING SOON: SUPREME DECISION ON PRAYER
Washington — It was after watching the sports film "Facing the Giants" that Joseph Kennedy, then a new coach for the Bremerton High School football team in Washington state, was inspired to pray.
And so, after coaching his first game for the Bremerton Knights in August 2008, Kennedy walked to the 50-yard-line, "on the battlefield," the retired U.S. Marine says, and took a knee to offer a prayer of gratitude.
It began with the coach, alone, briefly thanking God after the final whistle for keeping the players safe, for fair play and for spirited competition. But soon enough, the number of players gathering alongside Kennedy after games grew to include a majority of the team, though participation varied. At least one parent said his son felt "compelled to participate" out of fear he would lose out on playing time.
And soon enough, the prayers by Kennedy, himself a graduate of Bremerton High School, evolved into motivational speeches with religious references.
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field.
For seven years, Kennedy continued his practice of praying on the field with no issues. But in September 2015, the Bremerton School District learned what he was doing when an opposing team's coach told Bremerton High School's principal that Kennedy asked his players to join him for the post-game prayer, saying he "thought it was pretty cool" the district would allow such activity, according to court records.
That observation by the opposing coach served as the catalyst for a yearslong battle between Kennedy and the school district, the venue for which shifted from the gridiron to the courts when the coach lost his job after defying directives to end his practice of praying on the field.
Kennedy argued he was engaging in constitutionally protected religious expression, and last Monday, the United States Supreme Court will weigh his bid to get his coaching job back and be allowed to pray at midfield after games.
"It seems so simple to me: It's a guy taking a knee by himself on the 50-yard-line, which to me doesn't seem like it needs a rocket scientist or a Supreme Court justice to figure out," he told CBS News. "I didn't want to cause any waves, and the thing I wanted to do was coach football and thank God after the game...read more