From film directors to a former NFL Coach, thousands of Americans last Friday
expressed their support for Coach Joe Kennedy and his decision to pray
WHAT HAPPENED TO COACH JOE LAST FRIDAY?
Coach Joe Kennedy never intended to cause a scene. Nevertheless, the high school varsity assistant coach and his personal practice of post-game prayer were suddenly thrust into the national spotlight last week. Thanks to his quiet determination to stand for his faith, along with the swell of support from thousands across America, the scene at the end of last Friday’s homecoming game was like something straight out of a Hollywood script.
Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to Bremerton High School last Wednesday, responding to the school’s insistence that football coach Joe Kennedy cease his seven-year practice of personally praying at the 50-yard line after every game. Liberty Institute informed the school district that it was constitutionally permissible for Coach Kennedy to personally pray after football games. Read Liberty Institute’s demand letter here.
“I tell my kids to be bold in their beliefs,” Kennedy told the Seattle Times last week before the game, explaining his plan to continue praying at the fifty no matter what. “I want to set an example to stand up for you believe in, even if it isn’t popular.”
To thousands of Americans, Kennedy’s courage and conviction made him a hero. National media flocked to Bremerton’s homecoming game in Washington State last week—and tens of thousands were following the events on social media—all to see what would happen after the final whistle.
The Bremerton Knights lost to the Centralia Tigers 29-21. In order to not disrupt the students’ activities, Kennedy quietly slipped out to the 50-yard line while his players stood in front of their fans and sang the school fight song, according to tradition.
But as Kennedy prayed, he wasn’t alone.
“All of a sudden I feel all these bodies around me,” Kennedy told local KIROTV.com after the game.
Looking up, Kennedy saw that the Centralia Tigers—the team that had just defeated his team in their homecoming game—had come on to the field and surrounded Coach Kennedy, voluntarily joining him in silent prayer.
“He had no idea he was surrounded by the opposing team,” Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel, told Todd Starnes. “It was a beautiful sight.”
The night ended as homecoming fireworks lit the Washington sky.
Since that demand letter was delivered just last week, Kennedy’s story has gone viral. Over four thousand people have signed our online letter of support addressed to Coach Kennedy. Over six thousand people have liked the Support Coach Joe Kennedy page on Facebook. A video of Kennedy talking to the media after his post-game prayer on Friday has reached 200,000 views. His story trended on both Twitter and Facebook last weekend surrounding the game, and the controversy captured the attention of some prominent names.
As if the movie-like ending to last Friday night wasn’t enough, two different directors of faith-based football films reached out to Coach Kennedy before the game, recording special messages of encouragement that reached millions of viewers (see them on the Facebook page).
“I want Joe Kennedy to know that I am proud of him, as a fellow Christian, as someone who identifies with where he’s at,” Alex Kendrick (Facing the Giants, 2006) said. “I want to say, you’re a hero for doing this.”
“We stand with you, Coach Joe,” said Jon Erwin (Woodlawn, 2015). “What you’re doing is brave, what you’re doing is right, and we stand with you.”
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy tweeted his admiration for Kennedy.
“I appreciate Coach Kennedy staying true to his convictions. Glad I never faced anything like this in my career,” Dungy’s tweet read.
I appreciate Coach Kennedy staying true to his convictions. Glad I never faced anything like this in my career. http://t.co/FfKGpak8Di
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) October 15, 2015
Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, expressed his support for Coach Kennedy on Facebook.
“We need more men and women with the boldness of this coach! Christians are going to have to take a stand for their faith if there is any hope for the future of this nation,” Graham wrote. Over 25 thousand people post shared his post on Facebook.
Last week, Coach Kennedy and his attorneys at Liberty Institute made TV appearances on Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, Fox News with Shannon Bream, and CBN. Kennedy’s story has also been featured on CNN.com, USA Today, the Seattle Times, The Blaze, and numerous local publications.
“The huge outpouring of support for Coach Kennedy is beyond encouraging,” says Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute. “It shows that Americans care about religious liberty, and are willing to boldly stand up for it.”
THE STRATEGY: WHAT’S NEXT
Before Friday’s game, attorneys for the Bremerton School District responded to Liberty Institute’s demand letter, announcing that the District maintained that Kennedy’s post-game prayer practice could be perceived as a violation of the Establishment Clause, and that “strict adherence is required and expected, and violations cannot be tolerated.”
Liberty Institute and Coach Kennedy believe the coach was in compliance with the school district’s September 17 letter during his post-game prayer on Friday night. To date, the school district has not stated otherwise and has taken no action against Coach Kennedy.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.