Coach Fired for Praying Just Wants Job Back After Supreme Court Win

Attorney says the win means religious censorship as a default position is 'over as of today'
By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia. Contact him on
June 29, 2022Updated: June 29, 2022

The high school football coach who was fired for praying on the 50-yard line says he just wants his job back after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in his favor.

The Supreme Court ruled 6–3 on Monday that the sacking of Joseph Kennedy, who is a Christian, violated First Amendment religious freedom protections.

Kennedy worked for a public high school in the Bremerton School District of Washington state as a football coach until he was put on leave in 2015 for leading personal prayers at the 50-yard line after games.

In an interview with Fox New’s Hannity program on Monday night, Kennedy described the win as “a big sigh a relief” and said he felt “immense thankfulness” for the Supreme Court, his lawyers, and supporters.

Kennedy said all Americans should celebrate that the ruling means the First Amendment is “alive and well for all Americans, people of faith, different faiths, or no faith at all.”

Kelly Shackelford, Kennedy’s attorney, told Fox News that the coach wasn’t seeking compensation—he just wants his job back and to continue saying his prayers.

“One of the neat things that people don’t realize is coach [Kennedy] didn’t ask for any money. He wanted to make that clear. All he wanted was his job as a football coach and to be able to say that 15- to 20-second prayer; a silent prayer after the game,” Shackelford said.

“The court reiterated that that’s all he asked for today. And so that’s what he’s going to get unless they want to defy the Supreme Court,” he said, referring to the school district.

Kennedy has pursued his legal case for around six years, his attorney noted. When asked if he was seeking damages, Kennedy said he just wants the “same freedoms” he fought for as a Marine for 20 years.

Religious Censorship ‘Over as of Today’: Attorney

Kennedy’s attorney, Shackelford, said the win sets a significant precedent for religious freedom.

“This was a great win, not only for coach, he’s been fighting this for six years, but for the precedent,” Shackelford said. “I mean, my whole career, 33 years fighting for religious freedom, the default position when there’s religious expression has always been censorship. Well that’s over as of today.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion for the court, to which all six conservative justices ruled agreed (pdf).

Gorsuch wrote that it was wrong for the school district to discipline Kennedy because it believed that anything less might lead a reasonable observer to mistakenly conclude that it endorsed the coach’s religious beliefs.

He noted that Kennedy offered his quiet prayers at times when students were “otherwise occupied” and when “school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters.”

“The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor,” Gorsuch wrote.

“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

All three liberal justices ruled against Kennedy. The dissenting opinion filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it was wrong for the Supreme Court to ignore that Kennedy repeatedly caused “severe disruption to school events.”

“This case is about whether a public school must permit a school official to kneel, bow his head, and say a prayer at the center of a school event,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct.”