PUTNAM COUNTY, TN – After a school board in Tennessee told school officials, including teachers and coaches, that they were not permitted to lead students in prayer, angry parents and members of the football team decided to act.
The order from the school board followed a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In the letter written to the Putnam County School District, the group wrote that “there were several instances of prayer and proselytizing at events at Cookeville and Upperman high schools.”
A Putnam County Schools spokesman told local media:
“The case law not allowing prayer or proselytizing is clear. Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing cannot be sponsored by schools or school personnel.”
It is called the First Amendment! Just like the Second it has a "shall not be infringed" clause. Madelyn Murry is burning in HELL. #LiberalismIsAMentalDisorder
High School Football Teams Defy Orders and Lead Fans in Stirring Postgame Prayer – https://t.co/dvztdVHPRk
— HVY HTTR OlllllllO (@neil_gwinn) September 21, 2021
A statement released by the school board said that students could spontaneously pray, but staff and faculty could not participate:
“As a district, we absolutely understand the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members. “We support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers. That right is and will continue to be protected.
“We also understand that faculty and staff members cannot lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers.”
Many parents and students viewed the order of the school board as an attack on their religious freedom and were not going to sit on the sidelines. Parent Dustin Whitefield said parents decided to show their opposition to the rule at the Friday night football game between Upperman’s football game against Stone Memorial High School.
— kenzie45230 (@kenzie45230) September 21, 2021
Whitfield wrote to WZTV prior to the game:
“We do realize this is a public school, but it has always been optional for players to pray and has been a voluntary event. Players that still want to pray will have to do it on their own.
“After the game, players and cheerleaders that choose to will be on the field praying on their own. A group of parents will be going out on the field to support them. We will join hands and encircle them from a distance as a sign of protection and solidarity in choosing to continue to pray.”
Whitfield asked for anyone who supported the “parent-led” event to attend:
“This is a parent led event! We are encouraging anyone that would like to show their support to please join us.”
Great shot of football players from Putnam County school district praying after their game.
HS football team leads community in post-game prayer after school board tells coaches and teachers they no longer can: 'Satan's power was defeated tonight' https://t.co/WKaMmVMG5R
— @FairlyImportant (@fairlyimportant) September 21, 2021
After Opperman defeat of Stone Memorial by a score of 27-9; parents, players from both teams, and fans gathered on the field for a post-game prayer.
Bob Vick shared a photo on Facebook showing Upperman and Stone Memorial players leading fans in prayer on the field. Along with the photo, Vick wrote:
“Satan’s power was defeated tonight, as the threat of a legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead prayer supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field.
“God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage .”
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Activist court rules against Marine, says ‘taking a knee’ to pray at high school football games is illegal
July 25, 2021
BREMERTON, WA – Coach Joe Kennedy, the high school football coach fired in 2015 after refusing to stop praying on the field, is planning to take his court case to the Supreme Court after losing an appeal.
We are appealing to the Supreme Court!
The fight has been long, but we are hopeful the Supreme Court will right the wrongs. How long have you been following Coach Joe Kennedy's story?https://t.co/7FEd9x11OQ
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) July 21, 2021
Kennedy, a Marine veteran, was hired to join the Bremerton High School football coaching staff in 2008 and had a consistent and low-key habit of “taking a knee” and saying a short, silent prayer as players left the field.
A visitor from another school observed the ritual and complained to the school district.
In October 2015, the school board instructed the coach to stop the ritual. He was told in writing that he could not bow his head, clasp his hands, or anything that appears to be prayer. He was fired for not complying.
During an interview Friday on the Todd Starnes Show, Coach Kennedy explained the position the school put him in:
“Even if I happened to have just been down and tie my shoe, somebody would say, ‘Oh, look there, he’s kneeling again.’ And so, yeah, you can’t even close your eyes for a second. You can’t throw your hands up in the air during a play.
“It’s just so ridiculous to me how much… of free liberty is just been gone and taken away from us.”
First Liberty’s case representing Coach Joe Kennedy heads to the Supreme Court – Football coach fired for praying on field to take appeal to Supreme Court: 'Stand up for your faith' | Fox News @1st Liberty https://t.co/9uKLsCPILs
— Jeff Mateer (@JeffMateer) July 21, 2021
Texas-based First Liberty Institute, a legal defense organization that specializes in religious advocacy, took up his cause.
They filed suit against the district claiming discrimination against him on the basis of his religion and violated both his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In March 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton granted Bremerton School District’s motion for summary judgment.
Leighton ruled that the case involved a tension inherent to the First Amendment. The employee had a right to exercise his religious expression, but the school district had the right to restrict that expression if it violated the separation of church and state.
“Although the court is sympathetic to Kennedy’s desire to follow his beliefs, the former right must give way to the latter in this case.”
— Linda Marie Lovison (@lilo623) July 21, 2021
First Liberty Institute appealed the decision. the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to re-hear the case on Monday. Kennedy now hopes the Supreme Court will hear the case.
First Liberty Institute lawyer Jeff Mateer described two separate issues in the case:
“You’ve got a school district being hostile who, by the way, now is represented by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. If that doesn’t say something in itself, Todd, that these hardcore activists who don’t believe there should be any religion in public life are now representing the school district.
“One of the judges goes at length to explain that he believed the way Coach Joe was praying was inappropriate…it’s not right for judges to tell us what is the proper way to pray or not pray. That’s up to us. That’s up to Coach Joe. And it’s not for judges to tell us what’s appropriate or not appropriate.”
Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy says he will file another appeal following his latest defeat in court over praying on the sidelines. https://t.co/XSUwILRMKR
— KIRO Radio 97.3 FM🎙 (@KIRORadio) July 20, 2021
Kennedy told Starnes that he served the country for 20 years defending the constitution, and he was confused by the school telling him he could not practice his constitutional right to express his religion.
Kennedy took issue with NFL players and Olympians who are permitted to “take a knee,” but a high school football coach cannot:
“So, the same rights that give them the liberty to take a knee in protest for injustices even at the Olympics now. I mean, they could do that, but I can’t.
“I’m a high school football coach. I can’t even take a knee for 10 seconds and say thanks to the God who created me, there’s something seriously wrong with the country right now.”
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) May 15, 2021
Mateer vowed that the case will go before the Supreme Court, calling Kennedy “persistent and steadfast”:
“We’re headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court. We got a decision yesterday from the entire 9th Circuit. They decided not to review a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit who had ruled against Coach Joe. And so, this case is headed once again back to the U.S. Supreme Court. And you (Starnes) mentioned the length.
“You know, this case started way back in 2015. And if there’s one thing that Joe Kennedy is, Coach Joe is persistent and steadfast. And so, we’re going to continue this case and we’ll continue it all the way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
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