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‘STUNNED’: Coach Joe Kennedy Reacts to BIG Supreme Court Victory

Caleb Parke

Coach Joe Kennedy and his attorney at First Liberty Institute, Jeremy Dys, celebrated the 6-3 Supreme Court win Monday on the Todd Starnes Show.

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Reacting to the landmark religious liberty case, Kennedy exclaimed, “Wow. I have to take a deep breath every time I get asked this. There’s no words…I was just stunned.”

“You’ve been with me from the very beginning of this,” Kennedy told Todd Starnes. “I’m all about defending [the First Amendment] and it’s just great to know that we won.”

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The coach called it an “absolutely” historic moment for the whole nation, but he just wants to get back out on the football field. “From there, wherever God sends me, I’m going to go. I gotta trust him. So, I’m all in.”

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He said it’s been the “toughest thing” for his family.

“My wife was the HR director for the school district and my kids, also, all attended Bremerton High School while this was all going on. It’s just been a 7-year fight and it hasn’t left. It’s been just about an everyday thing…We’ve been blessed and we’ve gotten stronger because we all have stuck together and fought this together.”

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Dys said Kennedy has become a “friend” beyond just being his client.

“I’m so thankful that my friend and client is going to be able to go forward with his head held high, knowing that he took the fight, that he preserved our freedoms, not just in the Marine Corps in his time of service overseas…but he stepped up and fought for almost seven years to preserve our religious freedom in the legal system as well,” the attorney said.

The religious liberty attorney said the case will impact coaches, teachers, and school officials across the country.

“Justice Gorsuch’s opinion called out the school district for going out of their way to silence and censor and discriminate against Coach Kennedy for daring to raise his religious liberty on campus like that,” Dys said. “It will protect public employees across this country and anyone else who has been questioned for daring to bring their religion into the public square.”

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Dys said the case also put the “final nail in the coffin” of the Lemon test. “That test is gone now.”

“Today, you and I live in a country that has more religious freedom than what we have known in our entire lifetime,” Dys said. “And I think we should just all be absolutely joyful about that.”

The First Liberty Institute senior counsel also lauded Kennedy for sticking with the case for so long.

“At any moment he could’ve turned away from that calling, he could’ve stepped away from that fight and no one would’ve thought differently about him, but this man showed more bravery in the last six and a half years than most people will show in a lifetime,” he added. “And I think he’s showed a debt of gratitude from a very thankful American public.”

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Kennedy gave advice to young football players

“You fight the good fight and you stand up for what you believe in. And at the end of the day, you can at least look yourself in that mirror and say, ‘Hey I did what I was supposed to do.’ Now they don’t have to worry about people looking down upon them or them having to run away and hide. They can proudly display their faith, and the great thing about the First Amendment is that it applies to everybody.

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Starnes praised First Liberty Institute for playing a “major role” in the case.

“It’s been a long court battle, but you guys fought the good fight, you stood alongside Coach Kennedy. You played to the whistle, and you won the game,” Starnes concluded.

Below is the rushed transcript from the Todd Starnes Show, which airs nationwide daily from noon to 3 p.m. EST:

STARNES: [00:00:12] Alright, America, welcome all you beautiful people across the fruited plain. It is a great day if you love freedom and liberty and this nation. The Supreme Court delivering a major victory for religious liberty. It is the case involving our good friend, Coach Joe Kennedy. His attorneys at First Liberty Institute, the best of the best on the planet. And folks, we are all celebrating a 6-3 decision in favor of Coach Kennedy. I want to welcome them. And Coach, I guess we’ve got a lot of people in the audience applauding you and Jeremy Dys. Oh, you’ve got to take it in, Coach. [00:00:51][38.9]

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STUDIO: (Applause)

STARNES: [00:01:01] Don’t even ask how we fit all these people in the studio. Coach, I want to start with you, and I want you to take us back to the moment earlier today when you heard the great news. [00:01:14][12.3]

JOE KENNEDY: [00:01:16] Wow. You know, I have to take a deep breath every time I get asked this. There’s no words. Absolutely none. I was just stunned. I’m looking around going, what happened? What does it say? And of course, all the attorneys are just reading it and they’re like, “We won.” Like, what do you mean we won? So, yeah, it was absolute chaos this morning. It hasn’t fully set in. But I think, man, you of all people, you’ve been with me from the very beginning of this. So you’ve known how long this has been [00:01:45][29.5]

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STARNES: [00:01:46] It’s been a long time, Coach. And I know there have been good days and rough days. But, you know, at the end, it is a great day. And, I mean, this is really a historic moment, not just for you, but really for the whole nation. [00:01:59][12.3]

KENNEDY: [00:02:00] Yes, absolutely. [00:02:01][0.6]

STARNES: [00:02:03] I want to go to you, Jeremy, the great work that you guys do at First Liberty. I mean, this was sort of like the Super Bowl for you guys, I have to imagine being able to argue a case before the Supreme Court and then getting the ruling that came down today. I think we all expected it. But what was it like for the legal team at First Liberty? [00:02:20][17.5]

JEREMY DYS: [00:02:22] You know, I think it’s even more important what it means not just for coach, but for every public school teacher and coach in the country. We’re humbled to be just a little part of this whole thing. But what we know now is that today, coaches and teachers across this country, the court reaffirmed their right to be able to bring in their constitutional rights when they go through the schoolhouse gates. And that principle is critical to protecting and preserving the principles of religious freedom that this country has been founded on and that we hold so, so dear in our hearts. I’m just thrilled to death that Coach Kennedy has won after almost seven years of litigation. He’s won the opportunity to go back to be a football coach at Bremerton High School and not only to be a football coach, but when that game is done and that whistle blows, he’s going be able to go to the 50 yard line and take a knee in private prayer, and the First Amendment fully protects his right to be able to do so. And that’s what the Supreme Court has just said. [00:03:15][53.3]

STARNES: [00:03:15] Jeremy, is this a landmark case? In other words, is this going to impact other coaches across the country? [00:03:20][4.5]

DYS: [00:03:21] Yeah, coaches, teachers, school officials of all kinds. What I find interesting, Justice Gorsuch’s opinion called out the school district for going out of their way to silence and censor and discriminate against Coach Kennedy for daring to raise his religious liberty on campus like that. And he said, look, you cannot use the establishment clause as a way to censor and to drive away religion just because it happens to pop up on a public school’s campus. Instead, the free exercise clause prevents people of faith from being fired from their job just because they can be seen engaging in religious activity. That principle alone is not going to just protect Coach Kennedy. It’s not just going to protect coaches and teachers and janitors and principals. It will protect public employees across this country and anyone else who’s been questioned for daring to bring their religion into the public square. It’s going to last for decades, I’m sure of it. [00:04:16][55.3]

STARNES: [00:04:16] Jeremy, I want to get you to weigh in on something that the dissenting justices wrote. And I thought this was a fascinating take in the words they used. They said the ruling did a disservice to schools, students, and the nation’s long standing commitment to the separation of church and state. That might be a commitment, but it is not in the Constitution. That phrase, separation of church and state, not in the Constitution. [00:04:42][25.4]

DYS: [00:04:43] No, that’s exactly right. And what the court has held for years is that you can’t drive religion out of the public square. One of the tests that the court has used for years that has prevented religion from popping up in the public square has been something called the Lemon Test. And today, the court really put the final nail in the coffin of what Justice Scalia once called this rule that walks about at midnight but keeps raising its head in the middle of the night, over and over again to drive religion out of the public square. That test is gone now. Instead, in its place, the court says, look, we’re going to look to the history and tradition of our country. And if you could do it at the time of the Founding Fathers, if we’ve done this as a country, then it’s welcome in the public square as well. Today, you and I live in a country that has more religious freedom than what we have known in our entire lifetimes. And I think we should all be just absolutely joyful about that. [00:05:29][46.5]

STARNES: [00:05:30] Coach, I want to ask you where you go from here. So it’s been a long, long time. What’s next for you? [00:05:38][7.4]

KENNEDY: [00:05:40] Wow, I always knew that we’ve been asking to just go back to Bremerton and let me be a coach and be able to thank God. And as far as anything else goes, that’s the only next step that we got to do is work out how do I get back and when do I get back on that field. And from there, I’m just going to, you know, wherever God sends me, I’m going to go. I got to trust him. So I’m all in. [00:06:04][24.3]

STARNES: [00:06:04] How has this been for your family over these seven years? [00:06:07][2.5]

KENNEDY: [00:06:08] It’s probably the toughest thing. And I hope nobody ever has to sue one of their spouses. You know very well that my wife was the director for the school district and my kids also all attended Bremerton High School while this was all going on and it’s just been a, you know, seven year fight and it hasn’t left. It’s been just about an everyday thing. It’s always around and it’s just so nice to be able to know that we’ve been blessed and we’ve gotten stronger because we all stuck together and fought this fight together. [00:06:42][34.1]

STARNES: [00:06:43] You know, Jeremy, not only as an attorney, but, you know, as a fellow believer, this really had to have hit home. I mean, you guys cover a lot of very important cases, but this one, it had to be special. [00:06:55][11.6]

DYS: [00:06:57] You know, it is special. But in kind of a weird way, you know, Coach Kennedy is a client of mine and it has been the privilege of a lifetime to represent him. But he’s become something of a good friend over these last seven years as well. And I know it was weighing on him for seven years almost now. What this is going to mean? Is his name going to come out in the decision that protects religious freedom or is it going to be a decision that is going to be used against people of faith and to drive them out of the public square? I’m just so thankful that my friend and my client is going to be able to go forward with his head held high, that he picked the right fight, that he preserved our freedoms, not just in the Marine Corps, in this time of service overseas to protect our freedoms in foreign and domestic and the Marine Corps. But he stepped up to the plate and fought for almost seven years to preserve our religious freedom in the legal system as well. At any moment, he could have turned away from that calling. He could have stepped away from that fight, and no one would have thought differently about him. But this man showed more bravery in the last six and a half years than than most people show in their lifetime. And I think he’s owed a debt of gratitude from a very thankful American public. [00:07:59][62.8]

STARNES: [00:08:00] And coach, I want to give you the last word. What is the encouragement you have for those young people, those young high school students, maybe football players, they’re grappling with, you know, their own faith and maybe some of them are under attack for their faith. What’s your encouragement to those young people? [00:08:17][17.5]

KENNEDY: [00:08:20] What I always told all my players is you fight the good fight and you stand up for what you believe in. And at the end of the day, you will at least look yourself in the mirror and say, “Hey, I did what I was supposed to do.” Now they don’t have to worry about, you know, that people looking down upon them or them having to run away and hide. They can proudly display their faith. And the great thing about the First Amendment, it applies to everybody of any type of faith and also people that don’t have any faith. Everybody should be celebrating that the First Amendment is alive and well, and that everybody needs to be paying attention vigilantly for, you know, things that keep come and attack the Constitution. I’m all about defending it, and it’s just great to know that we won. [00:09:09][48.9]

STARNES: [00:09:09] Well said, and coach here’s hoping you’re going to be able to get back on the field I guess, what, two-a-days, three-a-days coming up. Really, coming up very quick, Jeremy, I want to take you to task with one thing you said earlier. You said that you guys played just a small role in this. And I would contend that you guys played a major role. It could have been easy for everybody just to kind of give up along this way. It’s been a long, long court battle, but you guys fought the good fight. You stood alongside Coach Kennedy, you played to the whistle and you won the game. And Jeremy, I just want to say thank you and God bless the great people at First Liberty Institute. [00:09:45][36.1]

DYS: [00:09:46] No, thank you. It’s been a privilege of a lifetime. [00:09:49][2.6]

STARNES: [00:09:50] Alright, Jeremy Dys and Coach Joe Kennedy. And Coach, the next time we hear from you, I hope it’s going to be out on the football field. [00:09:57][6.8]

KENNEDY: [00:09:58] I look forward to it. I appreciate it, Todd. You take care of yourself, buddy. [00:10:00][2.6]

Todd’s new book makes an important addition to your library — Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left From Killing a Nation. Available right now at ToddStarnes.com.

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