Two high-profile legal briefs were filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday evening on behalf of Coach Joe Kennedy, a Bremerton High School football coach who was fired for taking a knee at the 50-yard line and offering a brief, private prayer after high school football games.
For background, read The Gospel Herald article: Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Filed for Washington High School Coach Against School District
One of the briefs is on behalf of two football coaches at Garfield High School in Seattle, Wash. Coaches Kellen Alley and Joseph Thomas garnered national media attention when they joined their team in kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. In their brief, the coaches ask the court to affirm the First Amendment protects the rights of public employees, including football coaches, to private expression.
"If the Constitution protects the right of a football coach to kneel to protest injustice, it certainly protects the right of a football coach to kneel in prayer," Mike Berry, Senior Counsel at First Liberty Institute, the law firm defending Coach Kennedy, stated.
"Whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you are a person of devout faith or no faith at all, we should all seek to defend the right to free speech. It's central to our American identity as a diverse, pluralistic society, where we foster the free exchange of ideas."
The second brief is by two NFL players: Steve Largent, a retired Seattle Seahawk and member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and Chad Hennings, a retired Dallas Cowboy and three-time Super Bowl champion. In the brief, the former NFL stars recall how football coaches were a positive influence on their lives. They contend that actions taken against Bremerton unnecessarily restrict free speech and impair coaches' ability to serve as role models and mentors to their students. They ask the court to rule in Coach Kennedy's favor so he can resume coaching his players.
Kennedy filed a lawsuit against Bremerton School District after the school district terminated him. In the lawsuit, Kennedy's attorneys claimed the district violated Kennedy's First Amendment rights. The coach is represented by the national non-profit law firm First Liberty Institute, as well as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Oldfield & Helsdon, PLLC, and attorney Anthony J. Ferate.
Also a Marine Corps veteran, Kennedy said he made a commitment to God he would give thanks after every game-win or lose-for the opportunity to be a football coach and for his players.