Lankford, Hartzler Stand with Coach Kennedy

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) today led a group of 54 bicameral members of Congress to file a brief at the Supreme Court in support of Coach Joe Kennedy in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. In October 2021, Lankford and Hartzler sent an amicus brief to ask the Supreme Court to grant a 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. On January 14, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case. 

“If Coach Kennedy took a knee during the National Anthem his school would have praised him, but instead he took a knee after a football game to pray so the school fired him. Schools cannot pick and choose which type of free speech or faith expression they like or do not like. We live in a nation that honors personal freedom. Coach Kennedy did not use his position to demand others follow his faith. He simply lived by the principles of his sincere faith,” said Lankford. “The only thing Coach Kennedy is guilty of is exercising his constitutional rights to freely practice his faith. In America, we can have faith and we can live that faith. The government cannot stop Americans from publicly praying, wearing a cross, or having a Bible on their desk, and certainly not kneeling silently to pray after a football game. I look forward to the Supreme Court will look to the Constitution and upholding Coach Kennedy’s right to live out his faith and end this long, long journey of having to defend that right.”

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

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.  

You can read the amicus brief here.

Joining Lankford in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Todd Young (R-IN).