COURT: Kneeling at a Football Game to Pray is Illegal

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While professional athletes are kneeling in protest for Black Lives Matter, a high school football coach is not allowed to kneel in prayer, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Coach Joe Kennedy, a Marine veteran being represented by First Liberty Institute, will file another appeal to the Supreme Court after a Court of Appeals panel declined to re-hear his case Monday, leaving a previous ruling in place, which stated the Bremerton School District did not violate his religious and free speech rights when they told him not to pray on the football field.

Kennedy told the Todd Starnes Show Tuesday he was confused by the school officials telling him he can’t practice his faith after he served for 20 years defending the constitutional rights of all Americans.

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“So the same rights that give them the liberty to take a knee in protest for injustices even at the Olympics now. I mean, they could do that, but I can’t,” Kennedy said. “I’m a high school football coach. I can’t even take a knee for 10 seconds and say thanks to the God who created me, there’s something seriously wrong with the country right now.”

The case began in 2015 after Kennedy was fired by the school district. He was told in writing he could not bow his head, clasp his hands, or anything that appears to be prayer.

“Even if I happened to have just been down and tie my shoe, somebody would say, ‘Oh, look there, he’s kneeling again.’ And so, yeah, you can’t even close your eyes for a second. You can’t throw your hands up in the air during a play,” Kennedy explained. “It’s just so ridiculous to me how much, you know of free liberty is just been gone and taken away from us.”

First Liberty Institute lawyer Jeff Mateer pointed out two troubling issues in the case.

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“You’ve got a school district being hostile who, by the way, now is represented by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State,” Mateer said. “If that doesn’t say something in itself, Todd, that these hardcore activists who don’t believe there should be any religion in public life are now representing the school district.”

He added: “One of the judges goes at length to explain that he believed the way Coach Joe was praying was inappropriate…it’s not right for judges to tell us what is the proper way to pray or not pray. That’s up to us. That’s up to Coach Joe. And it’s not for judges to tell us what’s appropriate or not appropriate.

BELOW IS A FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW:

STARNES: We have been long-time supporters of religious liberty on this radio program, and we’ve been following a case out of Washington State for a number of years now involving a high school football coach at Bremerton, Wash. At the Bremerton High School who was fired because he took a knee to pray after a football game. Now, this court, this case has been going through the court system and looks like it could possibly be headed back to the Supreme Court. Our Good friends over at First Liberty Institute are fighting the good fight and defending our good friend, Coach Joe Kennedy. And on the Patriot Mobile newsmaker lines, we have with us Jeff Mateer from First Liberty Institute and Coach Joe Kennedy. Guys, good to have you back on the show.

MATEER: Good to hear from you again, Todd.

STARNES: You know, Jeff, we’re going to start with you, and I want you to give our listeners an update on what happened. There was a ruling in the federal court, the appellate court. Where do we stand now?

MATEER: Well, Todd, we’re headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court. We got a decision yesterday from the entire 9th Circuit. They decided not to review a three judge panel of the 9th Circuit who had ruled against Coach Joe. And so this case is headed once again back to the U.S. Supreme Court. And you mentioned the length. You know, this case started way back in 2015. And if there’s one thing that Joe Kennedy is Coach Joe is is persistent and steadfast. And so we’re going to continue this case and we’ll continue it all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

STARNES: You know, Coach Joe, I have to imagine it’s been a long haul for you. Take us back to that day when when you were called into the office and what did they tell you, Coach?

KENNEDY: Well, it all started out thinking, you know, it was just a big misunderstanding and that, you know, we could totally work through this. And it very was became very evident that the school just wanted to remove absolutely any presence of religion whatsoever. And I could only go so far. And, you know, when you draw that line in the sand and they said, you know, you have to pick between your your faith and your job, that’s when I knew it was really serious and this became something real to me.

STARNES: And I thought what was fascinating about your story, Coach, they actually told you and we had this in writing that you were not allowed to bow your head, you were not allowed to clasp your hands, you weren’t allowed to do anything that would give anyone the impression you were praying at the football game.

KENNEDY: That is correct, yeah. Any visual, it could have been anything, even if I, you know, happened to have just been down and tie my shoe, somebody would say, oh, look there, he’s kneeling again. And so, yeah, you can’t even close your eyes for a second. You know, you can’t throw your hands up in the air during a play. It’s just so ridiculous to me how much, you know of free liberty is just been gone and taken away from us.

STARNES: Coach, I have such great respect for you because and some of these cases, you know, initially things do not work out. You had a choice to make and you decided to follow the convictions of your heart. And you went out there on that at that football game after the game. And again, I think it’s important for people to understand you were not conducting a Billy Graham crusade. This was just a brief prayer.

KENNEDY: Right? That’s correct. The last when it came down to it, you know, the school said, hey, we can’t have you praying with any of the team. And I said, well, that’s unfortunate, but it’s your school, your rules. And I abided by that. I never prayed with another student again. And I just went back to doing what I originally did and that was just taking a quick knee, you know, maybe, maybe 30 seconds just to thank God to have the opportunity to be out there and for what the young men just did. So at the end, I mean, they even have it on video that I was all alone out there. Nobody. And it’s funny, they can even take me out of the lineup. They have it on video and they and the superintendent couldn’t even keep it, even though he knew I was there. But he couldn’t pick me out where I was and what I was doing at that time.

STARNES: Jeff, you guys have covered a lot of incredible cases. What is it about Coach Joe Kennedy and this case that that sticks out for you?

MATEER: Well, the fact that the school district continues to fight what was simply as Coach Joe said, just going to midfield, praying silently himself. And and you’ve got a school district being hostile who, by the way, now is represented by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. If that doesn’t say something in itself, Todd, that these hardcore activists who don’t believe there should be any religion in public life are now representing the school district. And then the other thing that that’s quite surprising is that the opinion that was issued yesterday, one of the opinions in denying the Ninth Circuit, deciding not to review Coach Joe’s case, one of the judges goes at length to explain that he believed the way Coach Joe was praying was inappropriate. And I don’t know about Utah, but it’s not right for judges to to tell us what is the proper way to pray or not pray. That’s up to us. That’s up to Coach Joe. And it’s not for judges to tell us what’s appropriate or not appropriate.

STARNES: Jeff, I’ve never asked one of you First Liberty guys this question. And we’ve had Mike Berry on. We’ve had Hiram Sasser, we’ve had a Jeremy Dys. But I want to ask you this question, and I hope I’m not overstepping here. But I mean, you guys are all believers, you’re followers of Christ. And I’m wondering, yes, you represent these clients so incredibly well. But is there a spiritual component to all of this as well? I mean, because this has to be tough on your clients like Joe Kennedy. These things go on for a long time, even after the TV cameras are turned off.

MATEER: Well, there’s a lot of spiritual in this. And you’re right, Todd, we the folks on our team here are all believers, but we represent people of all faiths. And this one, we actually represent someone that we believe and we agree with. And he’s a hero to us. As I said, I mean, Coach Joe, this started for him over six years ago. He’s been in litigation for over five years and been to the Supreme Court once and ready to go back. I mean, he is truly a hero and it’s our honor to have the opportunity to represent him.

STARNES: I’m just overwhelmed, Coach, by this idea that in America right now, it’s OK if you want to take a knee to protest the national anthem, if you want to protest the Pledge of Allegiance, you can do that and you can do it on a football field, but you are not allowed to take a knee to pray. What kind of a country do we live in?

KENNEDY: Yeah, that’s the part that really confuses me. I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, you know, supporting and defending the Constitution so everybody has the right, even if I personally don’t agree with it. But the Constitution and the rights of all Americans apply to all Americans. So the same, you know, rights that give them the liberty to take a knee in protest for injustices even at the Olympics now. I mean, they could do that, but I can’t. I’m a high school football coach. I can’t even take a knee for ten seconds and say thanks to the God who created me, there’s something seriously wrong with the country right now.

STARNES: There is. And Coach, I’m curious, what have you been doing now and what are you doing now?

KENNEDY: I have been staying busy, kind of keeping my head down and just really trying to enjoy my life and my family because they’ve been through a lot over the past oh, you know, six years of, you know, of the law, you know, part of it. But also before that, I coached eight years of high school football. So it’s you know, I this was a very large commitment and took a lot out of, you know, away from my family, my kids who all went to Barberton High School. So now we are we’re just kind of taking care of family and, you know, just living life and trying to enjoy and be a blessing for everybody else.

STARNES: Well said. And Jeff, I know that you guys have been. Really pushing this this issue about the Biden administration’s possible plans to pack the Supreme Court, there’s a special landing page at first Liberty called Supreme Dot Backslash Starns. Ladies and gentlemen, that supreme dot com backslash Starns. But, Jeff, cases like this illustrate that religious liberty is still in jeopardy. And that’s why we had to be diligent when it comes to these courts.

MATEER: And we absolutely have to be. And that’s a good thing that President Trump gave us three good nominees on religious liberty. The good in Coach Kennedy’s case, for instance, is for judges on the court already have spoken favorably in support of judge kind of Coach Kennedy’s claims. And since that time, we’ve added Judge Barrett. So we’re very, very hopeful to get back. And it would be a travesty if the president is able to pack the Supreme Court to take away our religious liberty rights. And that’s why we’re fighting against that as well.

[…]

STARNES: Well, Coach, I want you to know the audience of this program. We are praying for you and we are standing alongside of you in this fight. Jeff, we are doing the same thing for all of you guys at first Liberty Institute. And we just appreciate the great work you guys are doing to protect our freedoms.

MATEER: Thanks, Tom. All right. Take care of yourself.

STARNES: Coach Joe Kennedy. Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Mateer, First Liberty Institute. And they do have a survey and this is a great poll there. And they’re going to be releasing these poll results very soon. And I would encourage you to take this poll. The Supreme is called Supreme KHU Dotcom Backslash Starns Supreme dot com backslash Starns and Personal Liberty wants to know your opinions about whether or not we should pack the Supreme Court. It’s a pretty awesome survey.

Click here to listen to the full interview.