BREMERTON, Washington – As football returned over the Labor Day weekend, so did a sign of religious freedom in America.
In Bremerton, Washington, Coach Joe Kennedy took a knee and prayed at midfield.
CBN News was on hand for the momentous occasion.
It looked like your normal Friday night high school football game, with one major exception.
After enduring an 8-year fight to publicly pray after games, a Supreme Court decision put Bremerton Assistant Football Coach Joe Kennedy back on the sidelines. That ruling meant that he could exercise his First Amendment right to pray.
Shortly after the game ended, Kennedy stood at the 50 yard-line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, took a knee, and bowed his head in prayer.
Afterwards, the coach told a throng of waiting reporters what he prayed.
“I said thank You probably 30 times,” he shared. “I had no other words. What do you say to the One who got me here to begin with?”
He referred to the lawsuit against the Bremerton School Disrict, filed after he was fired for publicly praying. The Supreme Court ruled last year that the district had violated his constitutional rights.
“What we asked for from the Supreme Court and all the courts was just to be able to be a coach, and to be able to pray after a football game,” Kennedy stated.
He added, “What an awesome way to come back after an eight year battle.”
The city of Bremerton is Coach Joe Kennedy’s boyhood home. He loves this place. It’s both picturesque and blue collar, and it’s that hardscrabble approach that he needed to fight the eight-year ordeal.
It has not been easy. Victory came with pain and suffering, even threatening his marriage.
He recalled, “We’re about to get a divorce over all of this because I’m putting my wife through hell, and she’s crying every day.”
That’s because his wife, Denise, was head of Human Resources for the school district. Her husband was in a tough spot, for sure.
Denise admitted, “I was so angry at him. I spent a lot of time being angry because I didn’t understand his intention. I questioned his intention.”
She said, “I lost friends over this. And those people I worked with for 15 years, and I loved them.”
We asked if she felt overwhelmed, like she was drowning.
“Absolutely,” she responded. “That’s a really good way to put it – like, how do I balance this? How do I do my job? Be a wife and a mother?”
So, one year into the legal battle, their marriage hit rock bottom. Then, the Lord opened Denise’s eyes.
“I realized that God is in this,” she explained. “It’s not my husband. It’s not my husband’s desire for center of attention for this situation. It is God. God called him for such a time as this.”
And that led to a greater breakthrough.
“And to walk on that same narrow path together. No weapon formed against us shall prosper. And that is what’s gotten us through this,” Denise insisted.
And what’s next for Coach Kennedy? After 8 years away, the coaching environment isn’t the same.
“As much as they have accepted me, still, I feel like I’m kind of the outsider and still on, kind of like on enemy grounds. And I don’t like that feeling. It doesn’t have the same feeling that it did. The school district and this lawsuit took a lot of the joy out of coaching. It took away just about everything that meant something to me,” he stated.
It was noticeable. During the game, there would be long stretches when Coach Joe was all by himself, something we discussed after the game.
I told him, “That clearly seemed purposeful – or, if not purposeful, there was meaning behind some of that.”
He replied, “I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know if I should answer that.”
So, while he fought for years to get back, questions about his future are up in the air.
“I don’t know how long God’s going to have me here,” he mused.
He continued, “I have to talk this over with God, I’ve got talk it over with my wife, my family. There’s so many variables with this.”
Whatever happens, he’s confident of one thing, for sure.
“I finished the race,” Kennedy noted, “and I hope that God is kind of looking and smiling. And He’s proud that I did what He’s called me to do.”