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Former VP Mike Pence, Coach Tommy Bowden, NFL Hall of Famer and 3X Super Bowl Winner, and Others Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Coach’s Prayer

October 19, 2021

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10.19.21
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.or
Direct: 972-941-4453

Former VP Mike Pence, Coach Tommy Bowden, NFL Hall of Famer and 3X Super Bowl Winner, and Others Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Coach’s Prayer
Court considering whether to take case of football coach who was fired after praying quietly and alone for 15-30 seconds after football game

Washington, DC–Mike Pence, former Vice President of the United States, and Tommy Bowden—son of legendary football coach Bobby Bowden—NFL Hall of Famer, Steve Largent, and three-time Super Bowl winner, Chad Hennings, filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs urging the Supreme Court of the United States to take the case of football coach Joe Kennedy, asking the Justices to reverse a lower court decision that allowed a school district to fire him because fans and students could see him take a knee in quiet or silent prayer after football games.

“The Supreme Court has a great opportunity to make it clear that banning all coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and violates the Constitution,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “Coach Kennedy has been banished from the sidelines for nearly six years for simply kneeling in quiet prayer.  The Justices should right this wrong and get Coach back on the field.”

Additional amici include: 26 members of Congress, 24 state Attorneys General, 45 state legislators, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, Concerned Women for America, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse, the Anglican Church in North America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Coalition for Jewish Values, Family Foundation of Virginia, the Illinois Family Institute, the National Legal Foundation, the Pacific Justice Institute, the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, Veterans in Defense of Liberty, the Independence Law Center, the Chaplain Alliance For Religious Liberty, Galen Black, and 69 additional organizations.

In the former Vice President’s brief, from Advancing American Freedom, attorneys argue, “No right is more fundamental to our Constitution than the ability of every citizen to give personal thanks to God for the blessings of His provision. Yet the Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding the suspension of high school football coach Joseph Kennedy for engaging in 30 seconds of personal prayer at the conclusion of a football game would unconstitutionally require the many public officials who enter public service as an answer to the call of faith to deny the faithful practice of humble devotion to their Creator.”

Bowden, whose father Bobby Bowden passed away recently, said in his brief, “In the Bowdens’ view, the Circuit Court’s opinion jeopardizes an observant coach’s ability to impart these life lessons. It also effectively strips a coach of his or her spiritual identity while in the presence of his or her student-athletes by categorically eliminating at the public schoolhouse gate the coach’s First Amendment rights to engage in any form of religious expression. Simply put, the Bowdens believe that no coach should have to set down their faith when they pick up a whistle.”

The Supreme Court declined to review Coach Kennedy’s case in January 2019, allowing the lower courts to continue to develop the factual record.  But four justices (Justice Alito joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) issued a statement signaling that the Court would be open to hearing the case with a fully developed record, saying in part, “The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”

The case then returned to the district court for further review where, in January 2020, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the Bremerton (WA) School District’s motion for summary judgment.  Kennedy’s attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel sided with the school district earlier this year.  The full Ninth Circuit declined to review that decision over the dissenting opinions of eleven judges.  Last month, attorneys for First Liberty Institute and Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

Links to all the briefs are available here.


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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