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Joe Kennedy: How Christian conservatives turned a high school football coach into a hero

AAccording to Joe Kennedy, he wants nothing more than to get his job back and go back to coaching high school football.

The last thing on his mind, according to his lawyers, is to be associated with an unprecedented case that could, in its own way, be as historic as Roe vs. Wadeor the annulment of this judgment of 1973.

Isn’t he trying to be a legal or religious martyr?

“Coach?!” said attorney Hiram Sasser, a note of bewilderment in his voice.

“You heard the [New York Times] Podcast. He’s the coach. He’s a simple guy. He just wants his job back.

Others disagree.

They say whether or not the 53-year-old who served 20 years in the Marines, before finding God, originally wanted his dispute with the Washington State school district that hired him to turn into a something bigger is what happened.

Backed by powerful groups and individuals, conservative Christians hope the Kennedy case will succeed in pushing back against prohibitions on the separation of religion and state.

In that sense, they hope to emulate anti-choice activists who seem poised to end legal abortion rights, with the looming court ruling on statewide restrictions in Mississippi.

As soon as the issue began to gain national attention, figures such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who often tapped into the support of evangelicals, said the decision to suspend Kennedy had been a ” classic example of overreaching” by the local government.

“The Supreme Court is going to have to find its backbone,” he said in 2019, when the court initially decided not to review his case. “They need to make it clear once and for all that the First Amendment is real and it means something.”

The court then decided not to hold the case after a lower court refused to reinstate the coach.

Kennedy tried again, and a three-judge 9th Circuit panel ruled in March 2021 that the school district’s efforts to stop Kennedy from praying did not violate his constitutional rights, and his postgame on-field speech was a speech as a government employee.

“The issue in this case is not, as Kennedy is trying to portray, a personal, private exercise of faith,” Judge Milan Smith said.

“It was – in every sense of the word – a demonstration, and, because Kennedy demanded that it take place immediately after the final whistle, it was necessarily a demonstration directed at the students and the public.”

Donald Trump says high school football coach fired for praying before game is ‘outrageous’

When the full court of appeals refused to reconsider the case, Kennedy again appealed to the Supreme Court, saying he had “lost his job as a football coach at a public high school because he knelt down and said a silent prayer to himself in midfield after the game.” finished “.

In January 2022, the nation’s highest court said it would hear the case, adding another high-profile case to its docket. Already this summer, the court is set to rule on a case that could overturn Roe vs. Wade, and a leaked draft decision indicated that at least five of the nine justices are set to overturn it.

Kennedy said he had a difficult childhood growing up in Bremerton, a naval town, and was in and out of the foster system.

“I was pretty much a loner growing up and always struggling,” he said New York Times journalist Adam Liptak. “I’ve been jumping in and out of group homes and foster homes in this area.”

According to Kennedy, he was saved by the decision to join the Marines, where he spent 20 years.

“I needed to have that discipline. I needed to be able to belong to something.

When he left the Marines he returned to Bremerton where he found religion and says it helped him survive a crisis in his marriage. At that point, he says he began to put prayer at the center of everything he did, including whether or not to take a part-time job as an assistant football coach at the city ​​high school.

As he was trying to decide, he says he scrolled through his TV channels and came across the 2006 movie Facing the Giants, directed by and starring Alex Kendrick, as a high school football coach who helps end his losing streak by praying before games. He decided he would do the same.

Critics say when Joe Kennedy invited the media to watch him pray it became a ‘fiasco’


“God came down and just punched me and answered the question, am I supposed to coach? Absolutely,” he told Liptak. say, you know, here’s your whistle. Go play.”

Sasser says when Kennedy took the job, there was already a habit of someone saying prayers in the locker room before the team ran out.

“When he took the knee, some of the players – after several times – asked him, ‘What are you doing there?'” Sasser said. He says Kennedy said he was praying and giving thanks.

He says that when they asked if they could join, he told them, “It’s a free country. You can do what you want”.

At that time, he was asked to lead the prayers inside the locker room. (The school district said it was unaware of such prayers.)

Indeed, it appears that the coach’s prayers continued to pray on the touchline, usually at the 50-yard line or halfway, undisturbed for several years. Reports suggest it was only when the coach of a visiting team later praised the Bremerton manager that the school felt they had to act.

The reports of the time in the Kitsap Sun and other local media suggest that initially some sort of compromise was reached. When that failed, Kennedy told reporters what had happened and said he would pray as he always did, during the team’s next game.

Footage of one or two October 2015 games, with Kennedy on his knees, surrounded by his players, as well as members of the opposition and the general public, made national news.

“He has the right to be able to tell the media, that’s his plan, and that’s what he’s going to do,” Sasser said. “As a lawyer, I said to the media, okay, well, he’s going to come out and say his prayers, like he did before.”

The issue was said to have come to light after the rival team’s coach praised the Bremerton manager for allowing Kennedy to pray

(Andrew Buncombe)

In November 2015, after Kennedy performed another postgame, he was placed on administrative leave by the Bremerton School District and his contract was not renewed.

The school district and many members of the community disagree with the narrative advanced by Kennedy and his attorneys.

They argue that the school has done everything possible to find a compromise, which would respect his religious rights and allow him to pray in private, without it being construed as school-directed prayer.

Speaking as a private citizen, Jennifer Chamberlin, who represents Bremerton City Council’s District 1, said the case was important to her as she remembers growing up in Tennessee where she was a member of the school marching band.

She says prayers were an integral part of pre-match preparation, and as a youngster trying to figure out her thoughts about religion, she found the pressure to conform very stifling.

She says she still remembers the first time the team got together to practice and a ‘very graphic’ prayer about ‘the blood of Christ’, was said by a member of the group then. the others stood to attention. She says she felt caught off guard.

“Afterwards, I spoke to my band manager, and he kind of avoided me and said, ‘Well, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to’,” says -she.

“And I spoke to other, you know, staff, people and my peers. And I really had the cold shoulder.

Chamberlin says the story Kennedy and his attorneys presented is that none of the students were required to pray. Still, she says she knows from her own experience at that age that young people can be easily influenced, especially by someone like a sports coach.

“The narrative is that it’s harmless. But there are a lot of things that are illegal to do when minors are involved because they are impressionable,” she says. “There’s a reason we have laws that protect children and students from religious coercion.”

Donald Trump told Kennedy he thought the way he was treated was ‘outrageous’


She and others say that once Kennedy invited the media to watch him pray, it turned into a “fiasco” and she believes he was putting his own interests above those of the children. In November 2015, he was placed on administrative leave and his contract was not renewed.

The year after his firing, Kennedy attended a campaign speech for veterans in Herndon, Va., held by Donald Trump, where the Republican candidate spoke about his case and asked Kennedy to stand up.

“They put me on suspension, and then at the end of the year they gave me an unfavorable review for the quality of my work,” Kennedy told Trump.

Trump replied, “This is absolutely outrageous. I think that’s outrageous. I think it’s very, very sad and outrageous.

The president’s comments that were soon announced helped ensure that Kennedy’s case was championed by religious conservatives and evangelicals, whose support he was able to tap into to help him secure the White House.

It also helped him secure support from groups such as First Liberty. Its CEO and founder, Kelly Shackelford, said of the Kennedy case, “No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith in public.”

He added, “By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including prayer in public, without fear of punishment.”

Sasser says he won’t predict how the court will decide.

“We are hopeful. This is the final stage of this case, and we have a very small request,” he said. “But there are nine judges, and they have their way of doing things, and so it’s impossible for us to know what’s going to happen until it happens.”

The Independent Gt

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