Teachers and coaches deserve to have their civil rights protected

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Teachers and coaches play a significant role in our country. Yet their intangible influence is in danger of being lost if we fail to protect their civil rights.

Coaches like Joe Kennedy should be commended for their commitment to converting football players into men. Instead, the Bremerton School District fired him for praying alone after his game.

Kennedy’s first year was filled with struggles and foster families. His adoptive parents once told him that the decision to adopt him was the worst decision they had ever made. Yet it was precisely these experiences – combined with a career in the US Marine Corps – that made him a great trainer.

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Summons for plays and determination of playing time were left to the head coach. Kennedy was tasked with picking up a child when he was down on himself for a bad game, making sure his players had cleats when he could not afford them, providing his players with food, and even making sure that his homeless players had a dry place to sleep at night.

He never imagined himself as a coach, but when the district’s sports director pressured him to consider coaching football, Kennedy agreed to take the weekend to think about it.

Joe Kennedy coached high school football in Bremerton, Washington.

Joe Kennedy coached high school football in Bremerton, Washington.
(First Liberty)

That weekend, he stumbled upon a football movie – “Facing the Giants” – on television. The film touched him deeply. He knew that was the answer from God he needed. Like the coach in that movie, he promised that after the match was over, he would fall to his knees on the battlefield in a quick, quiet moment of prayer.

Eventually, and without any effort on his part, the players began to join him. His personal prayer developed into motivating conversations after the game that were infused with his faith. When an opposing coach complimented the school district, school officials told him his prayers and religious talks with the students had to stop. He stopped immediately because he just wanted to return to his original practice of praying quickly even after the fight.

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School lawyers, however, informed him that he could not return to his practice of praying alone at the 50-yard line. Instead, they suggested that he walk across the field, up the stairs, across a rehearsal path, into the main school building, down the hall, and into the janitor’s office to pray. Not only was it impractical, it would treat his prayer as something dirty to be hidden.

The Supreme Court building in Washington, DC

The Supreme Court building in Washington, DC
(AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite, Fil)

Now Coach Kennedy is at the U.S. Supreme Court, and the school’s new attorneys want to change the facts. They now claim that Coach Kennedy wants to force children to pray with him, but that directly contradicts what they said in 2015: “There is actually no evidence that students have been directly forced to pray with Kennedy.”

While Bremerton’s lawyers now suggest that the Bremerton School District punish coach Kennedy for praying with students, school officials admitted in 2015 that his suspension was due to the fact that while his players sang the school game song with the fans, he “knelt on the court and prayed for games.”

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It’s quite clear: Bremerton suspended (and later fired) him for praying alone at the 50-yard line.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco concluded that it would be unconstitutional if students could see coaches (or teachers) like Kennedy engaged in private, religious activity. It’s a terrible standard that can definitely drive good teachers and coaches like Kennedy out of the subject nationwide.

FILE - In this April 23, 2021, members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington.  Seated from left are Attorney General Samuel Alito, Attorney General Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Attorney General Stephen Breyer and Attorney General Sonia Sotomayor.  Standing from left are Assistant Attorney Brett Kavanaugh, Assistant Attorney Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney Neil Gorsuch and Assistant Judge.  Amy Coney Barrett.

FILE – In this April 23, 2021, members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated from left are Attorney General Samuel Alito, Attorney General Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Attorney General Stephen Breyer and Attorney General Sonia Sotomayor. Standing from left are Assistant Attorney Brett Kavanaugh, Assistant Attorney Elena Kagan, Assistant Attorney Neil Gorsuch and Assistant Judge. Amy Coney Barrett.
(AP)

The Supreme Court has a chance to change that on 25 April. Unless the judges intervene, teachers who can be seen praying over their lunch in the cafeteria may be subject to dismissal. If a teacher wears a crucifix, yarmulke, or hijab on campus, a school district may dismiss the teacher or coach because of what the Bremerton School District called “demonstrative religious activity.”

It’s not the American freedom brand Kennedy fought in the Marine Corps to protect. Ours is a nation that respects the private expression of religion and welcomes this faith as part of who our neighbors are.

No one should be forced to choose between their faith and the job they love.

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The nation needs good coaches and teachers. We hope the Supreme Court gives Kennedy the only thing he has ever asked for: to become a football coach again and be allowed to pray alone at the 50-yard line at the end of the game.

Once, some players asked Coach Kennedy if they were allowed to pray after their match. He said “it is a free country.” Let’s hope it’s still true.

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