Joe Kennedy, head football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington may face the loss of his job over a practice he has chosen in response to a Christian film that changed his life. The practice? Leading his team in mid-field prayer at the conclusion of each game. The film? “Facing The Giants”, a widely viewed movie produced by now well-known filmmakers Stephen and Alex Kendrick that depicts a coach deciding to pray over every game, making God the center of his team, and leaving the rest to Him!
Kennedy, a Desert Storm and Desert Shield combat veteran, made national headlines in September after the Bremerton School District launched an investigation into his post-game prayer. Since 2008, Coach Kennedy would walk to the 50-yard line where he would offer a short prayer of thanksgiving for the safety of the players, the fairness of the game and for spirited competition. Over the years, students joined the coach – all voluntarily.
“I’m being investigated for thanking God for the opportunities that have been given me,” he said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.” The Bremerton School District eventually issued a three-page letter to the coach – forbidding him from praying before or after high school football games. “I spent 20 years in the military defending the Constitution and the freedoms that everybody has. All of a sudden, I realized that people who work for the public schools don’t have the same constitutional rights that everyone else has.” The Bremerton School District took specific issue with the coach’s pre-game locker room prayer as well as his post-game inspirational talk at midfield. “Problematic practices,” is how they phrased it. The letter stated, “Your talks with students may not include religious expressions, including prayer,” Superintendent Aaron Leavell wrote in a Sept. 17th letter to the coach. “They must remain entirely secular in nature, so as to avoid alienation of any team member.”
Unbelievably, the superintendent’s letter went on to say, “If students engage in religious activity, school staff may not take any action likely to be perceived by a reasonable observer, who is aware of the history and context of such activity at BHS, as endorsement of that activity!” Additionally, the superintendent’s letter specified that such actions would include “kneeling or bowing of the head during the students’ religious activity.”
Thankfully, Liberty Institute is representing Coach Kennedy and immediately sent a letter to the school district stating, “There is no lawful prohibition against Coach Kennedy’s practice of saying a private, post-game prayer. The prayers are Coach Kennedy’s private religious speech, and no reasonable observer could conclude that BHS sponsors, endorses, or encourages student participation.” What will happen remains to be seen. But, Coach Kennedy plans on continuing his prayer practices (aka. Daniel of old) as he has done since 2008.
What a courageous, Christian coach! And, one that desperately needs our support!!!
President, HOPE Ministries International
President, North Carolina Pastors Network (NCPN)
Co-host, Stand In The Gap Radio