It’s hard to imagine, but by Monday a high school coach could be fired for getting on his knees to pray at a football game in America.
A coach was within his constitutional rights to kneel to protest the national anthem, but was forbidden to petition Almighty.
All that changed thanks to a man named Joe Kennedy from Bremerton, Washington — a Marine Corps veteran, a high school football coach, and a devout Christian.
In 2015, Coach Joe was fired from his job as an assistant coach at the local high school after violating a school policy that prohibited him from saying post-game prayers at the 50-yard line.
Coach Joe had said these prayers without incident for eight years – inspired by the faith-based football movie Face the giants.
The coach was moved by the film’s message to praise God regardless of what was happening on the field.
But the school district determined that the coach’s brief prayers constituted a violation of the law — separation from God and rust.
Nearly seven years later, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Coach Joe had the constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team’s games.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, of both religious and non-religious views,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.
It’s been a long and arduous journey for a man who is more comfortable under the lights of Friday night than under the glare of television cameras.
I wrote about Coach Joe’s journey in my book Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left from Killing a Nation. And I was happy to celebrate with him on my national radio program just hours after the Supreme Court decision was released.
“Everyone should celebrate that the First Amendment is alive and well,” the coach told me. “It’s just great to know that we won.”
It is appalling that an American citizen has been forced to spend years fighting for the right to do on the football field what George Washington did on the battlefield.
But for decades, a mob of cultural jihadists waged an all-out war in American courtrooms to eradicate Christianity from the public.
Opponents of religious freedom disguised themselves as “separation of church and state” when they successfully banned prayers from graduation ceremonies and Christmas cribs on military bases.
Even Judge Sonia Sotomayor accepted that argument in her dissent in the Kennedy lawsuit New York Times reported.
“Official-led prayer strikes are at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious freedom of students and their parents, as enshrined in both the Founding Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Sotomayor wrote. “The court is now taking a different approach and once again paying almost exclusive attention to the protection of individual religious practice under the Free Exercise Clause, while making short work of the Establishment Clause’s ban on the founding of religions by the state.”
To borrow a phrase from Coach Joe’s playbook, Justice Sotomayor is offside.
The concept of “separation of church and state” is not enshrined in the constitution. The phrase first appeared in a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to members of the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut.
Over the generations, far too many leftists have used Jefferson’s letter as a warrant to put Christians in closets.
But those days are over and people of faith can now live their lives loud and proud.
“You can’t use the founding clause to censor and expel religion just because it happens to show up on a public school campus,” First Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys told me. “Instead, the freedom of movement clause prevents believers from being fired from their jobs just because they can be seen engaging in religious activities.”
First Liberty, a religious freedom law firm representing the coach, says the court’s ruling protects more than just coaches and teachers.
The guiding principles of Gorsuch’s opinion “will protect public officials across the country and anyone else who has been questioned for daring to bring their religion into the public square,” Dys said.
If not for Coach Kennedy, public high school coaches would still have to think twice before kneeling at a football game.
“He came to the fore and fought to protect our freedom of religion for almost seven years,” Dys told me. “He could have pulled out of that fight and no one would have thought differently about him. But this man has shown more courage in the last six and a half years than most people show in a lifetime.”
When generations of football coaches band together to pray with their teams, they will be able to do so thanks to the courage of one Washington state man.
“I’ve always said to my players … you fight for the good fight and stand up for what you believe in and at the end of the day you’re going to at least look at yourself in the mirror and be like, ‘Hey, I did what I was supposed to do ‘” Coach Joe told me.
And today we live in a nation that has more freedom of religion than at any time in recent American history.
Coach Kennedy faced his giants, he played to the whistle and he won the game.
Todd Starnes is a bestselling author and national radio host. His website is www.toddstarnes.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.