Joseph Kennedy, a 53-year-old highschool soccer coach in Bremerton, Wash., was fired for praying on the 50-yard line after video games. A former US Marine, Kennedy fought again all the way in which to the Supreme Courtroom, the place he won his case in a 6-3 resolution final month, which he referred to as “nice information for your complete nation.” Right here, Kennedy tells The Publish’s Michael Kaplan about his battle, his victory and what he’ll do subsequent.
I by no means supposed to be a soccer coach, however possibly it was a part of God’s plan. In 2008, two years after leaving the Marines as a gunnery sergeant, I used to be jogging in Bremerton, the place I dwell with my spouse and 5 children. A man pulled up alongside me and requested if I ever considered teaching soccer. On the time I used to be carrying a Bremerton soccer jersey, and it seems he was the highschool’s athletic director. It was a bit of bizarre, however I stated I might give it some thought.
That weekend, I watched a film on TV. It was referred to as “Dealing with the Giants,” a few highschool coach who kneels down and prays to God after every recreation. That hit me within the face. I noticed it as a message, took the part-time paid job as assistant coach for the varsity workforce and head coach for junior varsity, and, just like the character within the film, determined to kneel down by myself and quietly thank God after every recreation.
The job was cool. I used to be grateful for being a part of the youngsters’ lives. Like loads of soccer groups, we prayed within the locker room earlier than the video games, asking God to be happy with the workforce’s efficiency and assist us give 100%. Then, after every recreation, each groups lined up on the 50-yard line, with gamers from either side shaking palms and high-fiving because the band performed the college combat track. That’s after I bought down on one knee and held a helmet to the Heavens. I might silently say, “God, that was superb. Thanks for these guys.”
My prayer lasted lower than 10 seconds. Then I’d stand up, mud off the mud and grass, and head again to the locker room with the workforce.
About six months later, a number of gamers got here up and requested what I used to be doing after the video games. I stated I used to be thanking God for what they did. They requested if they may be part of me. I informed them it’s a free nation and so they can do what they need. Three children joined me and I added to my prayer. On the battlefield — the place of blood, sweat and tears — I thanked God for serving to these younger warriors.
After some time, one among my workforce’s captains went over to the opposite workforce’s gamers and requested in the event that they needed to hitch as effectively. Typically they did. On these events, I held up two helmets, one from every workforce, and thanked God for all of us. There could be possibly a dozen individuals on the 50-yard line and it lasted about 15 seconds. For eight years, we did this prayer after video games and no one thought to remark. Two gamers on our workforce didn’t need to take part, and I used to be high quality with that. I believed sufficient of them that I made them two of our 4 captains.
Then, in September 2015, an individual from one other faculty district noticed us and referred to as the principal. I came upon later that he had complimented us, telling the principal that what we have been doing was actually superior.
Not lengthy after, I went to the coaches’ workplace to prepare for a recreation after ending my full-time job as a top quality management supervisor at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The ambiance within the workplace was informal, because it usually is, with guys determining the lineup and which performs we’ll run. Then one of many coaches all of the sudden stated, “Technique to go, Kennedy.” I didn’t know what he was speaking about.
One other one of many coaches stated, “The athletic director was in right here, speaking about your prayer. They’ve considerations.” I requested what he meant. He replied, “Don’t push it.”
Abruptly, the scenario felt severe. However I attempted to maintain it from bothering me. Whereas within the Marines, I had been in loads of high-pressure spots. I merely requested, “What’s the worst they’ll do to me?” One of many coaches responded, “They will fireplace you.”
Clearly, they didn’t need me to hope, and it made me bristle. As a Marine, I fought for our freedoms, together with the First Modification. I fought for us to have that proper.
Later that night time, we performed the sport, and it went into triple time beyond regulation. One other recreation was set to kick off after we completed. There have been lots of people on the sector; children have been operating in every single place. The athletic director got here as much as me and he supportively stated, “Boy, we certain dodged a bullet. You gained’t have time to say your prayer.”
I shrugged and informed him, “It’s superb how God works issues out.”
However then a child from the opposite workforce came to visit and requested me to incorporate his helmet after I prayed. I couldn’t say no. Out of the blue, it was my workforce, the opposite workforce, some coaches, all of us down on one knee and praying. I seemed over and noticed the athletic director strolling away in a huff. He didn’t appear like a cheerful individual. The assistant coach simply stood there, shaking his head. The pinnacle coach mouthed, “They’re going to fireside you.”
That went proper to my intestine. I felt sick to my abdomen and thought I might throw up. After we headed to the locker room, not one of the coaches from our workforce stated something to me. Virtually in panic mode, I went onto Fb and typed, “I feel I simply bought fired for praying.” Then I pushed the ship button and turned off my telephone.
I’ve solely a handful of buddies on Fb and didn’t suppose it could be an enormous deal.
However the subsequent morning, I turned on my telephone and had loads of messages. The posting went viral. Individuals needed to know what was occurring. A buddy referred to as from Virginia and stated I used to be on TV. I used to be in shock. One of many reviews stated, “Coach fired for praying.” I puzzled if I used to be fired.
Subsequent morning, I went in to satisfy with the superintendent. He informed me that the college has a rule in opposition to encouraging or discouraging prayer. The college’s lawyer investigated the scenario and gave me a letter stating that it was okay for me to hope so long as it doesn’t have an effect on my job duties. And they didn’t need me to hope with the scholars.
I used to be joyful to adjust to that; my unique dedication was to hope by myself. I delicately phrased it to the workforce: “Individuals within the administration constructing are involved. I’ll admire it in case you let me pray alone after the sport.”
The gamers have been high quality with that. After the sport ended that week, in mid-September, I went to the 50-yard line, took a knee and prayed by myself. We have been at an away recreation and no one cared.
Again on our residence area, although, after a recreation in October, I prayed silently and alone on the 50-yard line, with my eyes closed. Out of the blue I smelled gamers round me. I prayed to God it wasn’t my workforce. I opened my eyes and noticed that I used to be surrounded by the opposing workforce. Considered one of my buddies grabbed me and pulled me off the sector.
The college didn’t like that. I bought placed on administrative depart till I complied with a directive to hope out of sight.
At that time, I had began working with attorneys, representing me professional bono, from the Dallas workplace of First Liberty Institute, a nationwide authorized group that defends spiritual liberty for all People. My legal professional began coping with the college officers and their attorneys. There have been emails going forwards and backwards.
On October 23, 2015, the college despatched an e mail to my lawyer and me, saying I used to be allowed to educate however not pray on the sector in any respect. My lawyer responded, saying I refused to conform. That bought me suspended.
I used to be nonetheless allowed to attend video games. I did that, however it sucked. I sat within the stands and couldn’t go on the sector. I used to be proud simply to be there, however it harm to look at a child get offended and throw his helmet onto the bottom. A part of my job was to choose up the helmet and put it on the participant’s head.
However I figured I might be allowed again the next 12 months. I anticipated the suspension to be momentary.
Then, in November of 2015, my spouse, who works within the faculty district’s human assets division, got here residence with my analysis. It’s a written kind and yearly it got here with an automated renewal if I needed to be rehired. I all the time had excessive marks and the renewal choice. However this 12 months the marks have been horrible and so they checked the “don’t renew” field. In large, daring letters, it stated, “DO NOT REHIRE.” It was a dying sentence.
I may have simply rolled over and given up on teaching, however I’m a Marine and Marines by no means quit. So I went the authorized route, to regain my proper to hope on the sector and to get again my teaching job. In August of 2016, I sued the college district on the grounds of violating the First Modification and trampling my civil rights.
That was when the college district’s legal professional began to assert that I pressured college students to hope. That declare isn’t correct. In actual fact, the college district even stated, once they initially suspended me, that there was no proof of scholars being coerced to hope with me.
I used to be exasperated that they might go to such a size to make me look dangerous. Native reporters began asking me about this. I challenged them to search out one pupil who felt pressured by me. And so they couldn’t discover anybody. It was rubbish.
We spent six years preventing this factor in court docket. Alongside the way in which, President Trump came upon and talked about me in a pair speeches. It was humbling to have the president figuring out my title and, afterward, to truly meet him 3 times. First, when he was operating for president, at a rally, in 2016. One other time, when he was within the White Home, I went to the Oval Workplace and bought to sit down at his desk. That was the good expertise ever.
Then I used to be within the Rose Backyard for the president’s final city corridor in 2020. I requested him what he would do in the course of the subsequent 4 years if re-elected. He stated, “I did so much for you with the judges.” It was enjoyable.
However your complete expertise — significantly being concerned in a Supreme Courtroom case — was overwhelming. I labored full-time, supported my household, bought an MBA in aerospace protection by distant courses on the College of Tennessee throughout 2015 and 2016, and labored with my attorneys on the case. It went from district court docket to the ninth Circuit to the Supreme Courtroom after which again by all three once more. My lawyer likes to say that we misplaced the common season video games and gained the Tremendous Bowl.
Via all of it, I bought loads of consideration, however it sucked. I didn’t need to be referred to as the Praying Coach. I needed to be referred to as a Marine and an excellent soccer coach. On the upside, the Structure means every thing to me. As a Marine, I swore to defend the Structure. However I didn’t anticipate to be doing it as a civilian.
On June 27 this 12 months, I used to be in my lawyer’s workplace in Dallas as a result of all of us knew that the Supreme Courtroom resolution was about to return down. Everybody was glued to the Supreme Courtroom web site, the place selections get introduced. Then my lawyer stated, “It’s there!”
Abruptly everybody was leaping up and down, hugging one another, giving excessive fives. The Supreme Courtroom dominated in our favor! I raised my arms within the air, as if I used to be calling a landing. Afterward, we did interviews till midnight. It wasn’t till a number of days later that I went out for a celebratory steak dinner with my household.
Now I’m sitting tight, hoping for the college to name me again to educate. [Right after the ruling, a school district spokesperson told the Seattle Times that “it could not confirm” whether Kennedy would be reinstated.] I’m simply keen to sit down down and discuss to the opposite coaches about who shall be taking part in what positions in September. That’s the solely factor I need. I don’t even need again pay. I’m joyful to have my spiritual rights and to not have to depart them behind each time I’m going to the sector. Hopefully, everyone’s spiritual rights will now be revered. I don’t suppose anybody — no matter their faith — ought to worry praying in public. The First Modification doesn’t solely apply to some People. It applies to all of us.
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