Lankford, Hartzler Stand for Coach’s Right to Pray

WASHINGTON, DC –  Senator James Lankford (R-OK) led an amicus brief signed by 12 Senators and 14 Members of Congress in support of Coach Joe Kennedy in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The brief asks the Supreme Court to review and subsequently reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision that allowed Coach Kennedy to be fired for silently kneeling and praying after school football games. Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) is co-leading the brief for the House.   

“In America, we have more than the freedom of worship; we have the free exercise of religion,” said Lankford. “Each person can have a faith, change their faith, or have no faith. In this case, the school district wanted to choose the time and place for private prayer for one of its employees. Our government does not have the authority to force anyone to practice your faith in the time and space of its choosing. Government cannot and should not restrict a person praying over their lunch, wearing a crucifix, having a copy of scripture on their desk or kneeling to pray silently after a football game. The right to live your faith is one of the most basic principles recognized by our Constitution. Coach Kennedy’s right to live his faith is his inherent right.” 

“America is the land of many freedoms which include religion and speech. These God-given rights are central to our nation’s founding and have guided the United States for centuries,” Hartzler said. “Today, these principles are being challenged and stand at risk of being diminished. We are currently seeing this with Bremerton (WA) School District Coach Joe Kennedy, who exercised his right to practice his faith yet ended up losing his career and livelihood as a result. I urge the Supreme Court to consider his case and right this wrong for the sake of America’s precious freedoms.”

Joining Lankford and Hartzler are Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John Boozman (R-AR), Tim Scott (R-SC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and John Thune (R-SD).

Kennedy was head coach for the Bremerton High School junior varsity football team and an assistant coach for the varsity team. After each game, he waited until the players cleared the field, then took a knee and silently prayed. Bremerton High School sent Kennedy a letter demanding he stop praying after games. In 2015, Lankford led a letter to the School District in support of Kennedy. Coach Kennedy’s contract with Bremerton School District was not renewed, resulting in his termination. 

Kennedy filed a lawsuit against Bremerton School District, which a federal district court dismissed. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit argued Kennedy’s prayers were not protected by the Constitution because he was praying as a public employee rather than a in his private, personal capacity. In 2019, Coach Kennedy asked the Supreme Court to review the case and fifteen Members of Congress, led by Senator Lankford, filed an amicus brief in support of Coach Kennedy. The Court denied review of the case, with a concurring statement by four Justices requesting more information. As such, the case went back to the lower courts. In March 2021, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court’s decision that Kennedy’s silent, public prayers after football games violate the Establishment Clause, and the circuit court denied an appeal for review.