Court Battles

Football coach celebrates prayer case win at Supreme Court: ‘I just can’t stop smiling’

The Supreme Court is seen on Friday, June 24, 2022 after the court released a decision to strike Roe v. Wade.
Greg Nash
The Supreme Court is seen on Friday, June 24, 2022.

The football coach who won his Supreme Court case over school prayer on Monday spoke out following the 6-3 ruling, thanking God for “answering our prayers.”

The court’s conservatives ruled in favor of Joseph Kennedy earlier on Monday in his dispute with a Seattle-area school district after it placed him on paid leave for leading postgame prayers on the 50-yard line of the school’s football field.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Kennedy said on Fox News’s “The Faulkner Focus.” 

“I just can’t stop smiling, and, you know, thank God and thank everybody that supported me, and I found out that I’m not insane,” he continued. “It’s absolutely true of all the facts of the case, and it just feels good to know that the First Amendment is alive and well.”

Kennedy for years would kneel on the field to engage in brief prayer, with players from his team and opposing schools eventually joining him. The school argued Kennedy’s influential capacity as a coach pressured players to join the prayer or risk a cut in playing time.

But the conservative justices on Monday ruled in favor of Kennedy, arguing that the school had a “mistaken view” that it had a duty to “suppress religious observances.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, called it unconstitutional “discrimination” against Kennedy’s First Amendment rights.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Gorsuch wrote.

In a written statement, Kennedy said all he has ever wanted was to be back on the field. 

“I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle,” he said.

First Liberty Institute, a Christian conservative legal organization that represented Kennedy, said the decision respects the constitutional rights of public school teachers and coaches.

“This is a tremendous victory for Coach Kennedy and religious liberty for all Americans,” said Kelly Shackelford, the group’s president. “Our Constitution protects the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.  We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and law have always said – Americans are free to live out their faith in public.”

Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said in a statement that the decision was a “great victory” for Kennedy and the First Amendment.

“After seven long years, Coach Kennedy can finally return to the place he belongs – coaching football and quietly praying by himself after the game,” Clement said. 

Tags high school football Joseph Kennedy prayer Religion Supreme Court
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