Press Releases

Football Coach’s Brief Argues U.S. Supreme Court Should Reverse Ninth Circuit Decision Preventing Him from Taking a Knee

February 23, 2022

Press Release
For Immediate Release: 2.23.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel,
Direct: 972-941-4453

Coach Kennedy | Silent Prayer 10-26-2016 | First Liberty

(Coach Kennedy at the Bremerton High School football field on October 26, 2015. Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.
Access full resolution photos at under “Photos and Videos.”)

Football Coach’s Brief Argues U.S. Supreme Court Should Reverse Ninth Circuit Decision Preventing Him from Taking a Knee
Attorneys ask Justices to reinstate football coach who lost his job after kneeling at midfield for a brief, quiet prayer after football games

Washington, D.C.—Attorneys for First Liberty Institute and Kirkland & Ellis LLP today filed their initial brief at the Supreme Court of the United States asking the Justices to reverse a lower court decision that allowed a school district to suspend former high school football coach Joe Kennedy because fans and students could see him take a knee in quiet or silent prayer after football games.  Today’s brief argues that respecting the individual rights of teachers and coaches to engage in a brief, personal prayer comports with the U.S. Constitution.

You can read the brief here.

“To threaten every public-school teacher or coach with losing their job for simply expressing their faith while in public is outrageous and a dangerous threat to our constitutional freedoms,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “For over six long years, Coach Kennedy has been banned from coaching the game and players he loves.  All we are asking–and all we have ever asked–is for Coach Kennedy to be allowed to pray quietly, by himself at the 50-yard-line at the end of games.”

Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and First Liberty volunteer attorney, said, “Teachers and coaches retain their First Amendment rights on school premises.  The suppression of the individual religious expression of teachers and coaches is not permitted, let alone required, by the First Amendment.”

In its brief, Kennedy’s attorneys state, “In a diverse Nation founded on principles of religious liberty, the government can expect that some teachers, coaches, and students will be religious people with a felt need (and constitutional right) to engage in private religious expression.  The sensible and constitutional path for government officials is one of tolerance for private religious expression.  If the government follows a different path and insists that the only acceptable role models are those without discernible religious beliefs, then it should expect a pugilistic response.  The founders fought for religious liberty and protected it as a fundamental right.  It remains a liberty worth fighting for.”

Among several who filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Court to take the case were Advancing American Freedom launched by Mike Pence, former Vice President of the United States; Tommy Bowden, the son of legendary football coach Bobby Bowden; NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent; and three-time Super Bowl winner Chad Hennings.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State represent the Bremerton School District.


About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

 To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at or by calling 972-941-4453.

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