Coach Kennedy Receives 2022 Onderdonk Religious Liberty Award

September 2, 2022
Fli Insider | Coach Kennedy Onderdonk

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

First Liberty is proud to present the 2022 Onderdonk Religious Liberty Award to Coach Joe Kennedy.

Each year at The American Legion’s National Convention, First Liberty bestows the Philip B. Onderdonk Jr. Religious Liberty Award to one exceptional individual or group for their efforts to defend religious liberty.

The honoree receives a custom Henry Repeating Arms Military Service Tribute Edition .22 caliber commemorative rifle, specially engraved for the award. The rifle is donated by Henry Repeating Arms, a strong supporter of our nation’s military service members and veterans.

Many people know Coach Kennedy as the “kneeling football coach.” But there’s so much more to his story. Behind the big smile and gregarious personality is a history of resilience, courage and perseverance.

After he was fired for praying on the 50-yard line, Coach Kennedy braved nearly seven years of litigation. His case went up and down and back up again through the federal courts. Despite numerous setbacks, his courage and perseverance eventually brought him to the nation’s highest court. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that restored Coach Kennedy’s right to pray and set a precedent protecting religious liberty for millions of public employees.

Coach Kennedy’s love for his country is also evident from his 20 years of military service, most of that time in the U.S. Marine Corps. His service included two deployments during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As a combat veteran, he witnessed firsthand what the absence of religious freedom looks like. This experience gave him a greater appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here in America. He knows firsthand the sacrifices one must make to protect the liberties we cherish—especially the right to freely live out one’s faith.

We applaud Coach Kennedy for his heroic perseverance, both on the frontlines of war and on the legal battlefront. Time after time, this Marine-turned-football-coach has led by example, showing us that we must never back down in our commitment to God and country.

The Onderdonk Award was first introduced in 2015, named after Philip B. Onderdonk Jr, long-time National Judge Advocate of The American Legion. Past honorees also include:

  • Northeast POW/MIA Network (2021), a veterans service organization that fought fervently to keep a Bible—donated by a WWII veteran—on the Remembrance Display at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Hampshire.
  • Christopher DiPompeo (2019), co-lead counsel for the Bladensburg Peace Cross case, a landmark Supreme Court victory for The American Legion and religious liberty.
  • President Donald J. Trump (2018) for his strong support of religious freedom, which included passing an executive order advancing religious freedom throughout our federal agencies and government, including the military.
  • Senator Ted Cruz (2017) for his work for religious freedom both while in office and in private practice. Among other things he played a leading role in helping First Liberty save the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.
  • Dan Wheeler (2016), The Legion’s national executive officer, U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, and journalist for his key role in The Legion and First Liberty partnership, particularly in our legal efforts to stop attacks on memorials and displays honoring veterans.
  • Philipp B. Onderdonk, Jr., (2015), long time National Judge Advocate of The Legion for working alongside First Liberty for many years to protect the religious freedom of our military veterans and all Americans, including the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, and the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

We consider it an honor to continue granting the Onderdonk Award in conjunction with one of the most distinguished veterans organizations in the country. For more than a decade, First Liberty and The American Legion have collaborated multiple times to defend the constitutional liberties not only of military service members, but for all Americans. Our partnership has led to or helped achieve many victories for religious freedom, including:

  • Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial
  • Mojave Desert Memorial Cross
  • Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial
  • Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey
  • “In God We Trust” National Motto

Today, we congratulate Coach Kennedy on receiving this well-deserved award. We, along with millions of Americans, thank him for not backing down and for staying true to his faith. We honor him for living up to what he learned as a U.S. Marine: Semper Fidelis—always faithful.

Fli Insider | Coach Winning Together

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