After a nearly 8-year hiatus from the high school gridiron, Bremerton High School football Coach Joe Kennedy will take to the sidelines on Friday night – and take a knee in prayer at the 50-yard line following the contest.

Upwards of 10,000 spectators are expected to jam into a stadium that is accustomed to hosting 500 for a typical game.

Coach Kennedy was fired back in 2015 after refusing to stop praying silently but publicly after games. The case immediately drew national headlines, and eventually wound its way all the way to the United States Supreme Court. A 6-3 High Court ruled in 2022 that Kennedy had a constitutional right to pray at midfield.

“I’m glad that Americans have more religious freedom now, and it will become part of the culture the way our country was originally designed, where people could feel free to express their religious beliefs and not have to worry about hiding those things,” Coach Kennedy told the Washington Times.

Only the fight might not be completely over or resolved just yet.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Bremerton School District drew up new regulations and parameters concerning “personal conduct” at school-sponsored events. While the policy doesn’t mention Kennedy by name, the guidelines were obviously drawn up with him in mind.

The new policy means that students will need to stay at least 25 feet from the coach while he prays, and the public will not be allowed on the field to join him. That means players could still line up on the 40-yard-line and join their coach in prayer.

“It’s like a bubble,” Coach Joe lamented. “They are trying to keep people away from prayer and me from everybody else. I am not abiding by that.”

It’s not exactly clear what he means by that – or what may transpire tonight or after games going forward.

Coach Joe, who was inspired to begin his post-game prayer tradition after watching the movie, Facing the Giants, has invited residents to join him in prayer at the game – or virtually wherever they may be.

“This is the way it was designed from the beginning,” Coach Kennedy reflected. “We’re resetting the clock. You’re going to be able to go and have an evening out, go enjoy football, thank your players, your coaches, you educators, just go out there and have a moment of silence or have a moment of prayer or whatever you want to call it…just be thankful for being an American. And let’s exercise those rights. It’s going to feel really good when you do it.”

“I just think it’d be really cool if people across the whole entire nation — everybody in America — have a national night of prayer and have everybody on the football field doing it,” he said. “I think that would just send a loud, resounding message that, ‘Hey, we’re not being pushed around anymore. We’re going to be able to stand up on our own.’”

Our friends at the First Liberty Institute, the organization that represented the coach in his successful Supreme Court case, have initiated a “Take a Knee” campaign to make more citizens aware of our first freedoms.

“This is a first simple yet powerful step we can take to restore faith in our schools,” First Liberty notes. “God has opened an incredible door for all Americans to express their faith and bring faith back to our communities.”

Hiram Sasser, executive general counselor for First Liberty, summed up the effort and motivation behind the call this way:

“We just want everyone to feel like they can exercise these rights. We won the right. We overturned 50 years of Supreme Court precedent that was sort of intimidating everyone into silence, self-censorship, so this is a great opportunity for everybody to exercise their rights and to live out the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Joe Kennedy, who is an assistant coach, isn’t sure how long he’ll stay with the team. His concerns are focused on matters more significant than wins or losses, too.

“We’ll make some decisions of what’s next in our life, because obviously it’s not going to be football forever,” Kennedy told the Associated Press. “We’d like to do — I don’t know — maybe some ministry or something.”

Whether Coach Joe recognizes it or not, his ministry has neither stopped nor slowed since he was first relieved of his football coaching duties back in 2015.

Photo credit First Liberty Institute