Football Coach Fired for Praying After Games, Shows Trend of Religious Hostility: Jay Richards

By Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.
and Steve Lance
Steve Lance
Steve Lance
Steve Lance is the host of Capitol Report, a political news show based in Washington aimed at providing a direct channel to the voices and people who shape policy in America. Capitol Report features all of the political news of the day with expert interviews and analysis.
April 29, 2022 Updated: April 29, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun deliberating a case involving a former high school assistant football coach from Washington state which will impact how religious liberty is defined in public schools and beyond.

Jay Richards, senior research fellow in Religious Liberty and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, thinks that former coach Joseph Kennedy’s case is a clear violation of First Amendment rights.

Kennedy was fired from his job for praying after games, something he says he did alone while sometimes students would voluntarily join him.

Richards said the case is a clear violation of Kennedy’s First Amendment rights and shows a growing trend of hostility toward religion.

“And, frankly, my own view is that we’ve moved way past the actual guarantees and promises of the First Amendment to explicit hostility toward religion in the public square,” Richards told the host of NTD Capitol Report, Steve Lance in a recent interview.

On Monday the Supreme Court began deliberating Kennedy’s case.

A former U.S. Marine, Kennedy said he made a pledge to God, as a Christian that he was going to pray by himself after every football game.

“…Every Friday night, every Monday I was out on the football field after the game, taking the knee as an American, as a Marine, as a coach, you know, a believer. I’m not going to turn my back on my faith just because it becomes uncomfortable,” Kennedy said during a recent interview with Epoch Time Crossroads.

The full interview with coach Kennedy will air on April 29 at 7:30 PM ET.

Richards said: “So, there’s really not in any way disruptive, and clearly not a government endorsement of religion, but the school district in Bremerton, Washington decided, well, this is too much of an explicit display of religion.”

The school district argues that when Kennedy prayed midfield after games, he was viewed by onlookers as a coach who was serving as a mentor and role model.

In this theory of the case, Kennedy was acting as a government employee at that moment, which means that he was engaging in speech that constituted government speech that isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

Epoch Times Photo
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school’s football field. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Richard said religious hostility has increased since the “infamous case, banning school prayer in 1962, which said, official school prayer in schools was unconstitutional.”

He said Kennedy’s case shows that there is, “essentially a hostility to any public display of religious belief no matter how voluntary and so I think the supreme court recognizes that that is that’s a dangerous bridge to cross.”

First Liberty has one of America’s top litigators on its team to argue the Kennedy case before the SC, Paul Clement.

Richards thinks Kennedy’s team has a good chance of winning their case at the Supreme Court, even though Kennedy lost at all the lower courts, over the last eight years.

“It’s finally reached the Supreme Court, which I’d say it’s probably good news in the long run for coach Kennedy,” said Richards.

Richards thinks the case is a clear-cut violation of Kennedy’s First Amendment rights, because the coach was not coercing anyone to join him in his silent prayer and doing it after the game, yet was still fired, because of the hostility toward religion.

“And so, I think the Supreme Court is noticing this trend, and I’m really hopeful that they will help restore the original constitutional balance in which we don’t prohibit the free exercise of religion in the course of avoiding an establishment of religion.”

Matthew Vadum contributed to this report.

 

Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.
Steve Lance
Steve Lance is the host of Capitol Report, a political news show based in Washington aimed at providing a direct channel to the voices and people who shape policy in America. Capitol Report features all of the political news of the day with expert interviews and analysis.