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Courage and Perseverance: How Life, Military Service and Trials Shaped Coach Kennedy

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April 22, 2022
Fli Insider | Coach Joe the Full Story

by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read

On Monday, April 25th, First Liberty and our team of volunteer attorneys will argue Coach Kennedy’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court. This is a monumental and critical case—one that could not only restore Coach Kennedy’s right to pray, but also one that could impact millions of government employees, teachers and coaches across the country.

If you’ve followed First Liberty for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with Coach Joe’s case. He’s the high school football coach who was fired because he took a knee for a brief, personal prayer on the 50-yard line after games.

But there is so much more to Coach Kennedy. His story is one of resilience, courage and perseverance.

After a difficult childhood that included moving in and out of foster homes, Coach Kennedy sought discipline and stability. This led him to serve his country in the armed forces for 20 years, most of that time in the U.S. Marine Corps. His service included two deployments during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

While overseas, he witnessed firsthand what the absence of religious freedom looked like. This experience gave him a greater appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here in America. It also gave him a first-hand perspective of why we cannot take our constitutional rights for granted.

In case you haven’t had an opportunity to hear about Coach Kennedy’s military service, we encourage you read this inspiring interview: Coach Joe Kennedy: How 20 Years in the Marine Corps Gave Him the Courage to Kneel.

As a Marine, Coach Joe took an oath to protect the Constitution. But fighting on the battlefield was only one part—indeed, only the beginning—of his duty and service to his country. Not long after leaving the service, he’d once again be called to defend the Constitution. Although this time, he wouldn’t be wearing a military uniform.

Fli Insider | ipad Coach Joe

Many people often ask: Why did Coach Kennedy kneel to pray in the first place?

In 2008, Coach Kennedy returned home from military service and got connected with the local football team. But it wasn’t something he sought out. One day, while out for a run, someone driving by asked him if he had any experience coaching. He told that person about his military service and that he thought he could use what he’d learned in the service to be a coach.

When he became a football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state, Coach made a personal commitment to God. After every football game—win or lose—he would take a knee to pray for his team and thank God for the opportunity to be a coach. So, at his inaugural game, Coach Kennedy knelt on the 50-yard line for a brief, personal prayer.

For seven years Coach Joe lived out his faith on the field without receiving any complaints. Shockingly—after a compliment from a school administrator from a visiting team—the Bremerton School District prohibited him from engaging in “demonstrative religious activity” and ultimately told him any religious expression would have to be done where nobody could see him.

Coach Kennedy wasn’t going to renounce his commitment simply because government officials told him to stop praying. He wasn’t going to back down simply because opposition came his way.

As a combat veteran, Coach Kennedy knows first-hand the sacrifices one must make to protect the liberties we cherish—especially the right to freely live out one’s faith. Not praying on his own after games would mean breaking his commitment to God and forfeiting the liberties he defended.

He had to live up to what he’d learned as a U.S. Marine: to be semper fidelis—always faithful. So, he continued to pray—which eventually cost him the job that he loved. Despite the consequences, he knew, deep down, staying true to his faith was the right thing to do.

Coach Kennedy has braved nearly seven years of litigation. His case has gone up and down and back up again through the federal courts. Despite numerous setbacks, his courage and tenacity have brought him to this vital moment to present his case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Looking back on Coach Kennedy’s journey, it’s clear the many adversities he faced in life—from his tough childhood to his military service—prepared him to take a stand for his constitutional rights, as well as for the rights of all Americans.

Ahead of the upcoming Supreme Court argument, we applaud and commemorate 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 both God and country.

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