Court shouldn't have ruled against high school football coach who lost his job for praying

My first thoughts weren’t about religious liberty when I heard the news that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against Joe Kennedy – a high school football coach in the state of Washington. The court said Kennedy properly lost his job when he refused a school district order to stop praying on the 50-yard-line of the Bremerton High School football field after games.

Instead of thinking about Kennedy’s case, my mind went back to another coach – a man and mentor who saved my life.

I first met my high school football coach, Paul Moro, as an orphaned sophomore who had experienced many tragedies in my short life: my dad walking out on the family when I was 5; mom dying of cancer four years later; and my traumatic stint in the foster care system.  

As you can imagine, I wasn’t doing too well. I desperately needed a mentor to help me transition from boyhood to manhood.

And that’s what Coach Moro did for me. He was a tough, no-nonsense type of guy who pushed me to excellence – but he also showed me great compassion and got involved in the details of my life. I owe a lot to him. 

And while I don’t know Joe Kennedy personally, he reminds me a lot of my Coach Mo – a man of principle and influence who’s motivated by his Christian faith. 

In this age of rampant fatherlessness, when about 17.4 million kids in the U.S. live without a dad in the home, we need men like Coach Kennedy to be involved with children who desperately need positive role models.

Instead, Bremerton School District suspended Kennedy because he silently prayed at the end of football games at the 50-yard line, and later refused to renew his contract at the end of the 2015 season. 

Mind you, Kennedy quietly prayed for seven years and no one ever complained. He never invited anyone to pray with him. Often, he would pray at midfield alone.

And on the times that players from his team and even the opposing team would ask if they could join him, Kennedy would answer: “It’s a free country, you can do whatever you want.” 

If only. 

It was only after one person complimented the district on the coach’s prayers that it responded by ordering the coach to stop praying after the game, bowing his head or even being physically present where students may be praying.

It’s absurd to think that, in a sport where concussions and injuries regularly happen, the school district is concerned about a man who silently prays and thanks God for his team and the safety of players.

The fear of litigation has put many school districts into overreaction mode – and sadly, the courts haven’t helped guarantee our right to free speech and religion.

Instead of interpreting the First Amendment reasonably, the 9th Circuit is coming to conclusions that the average person doesn’t understand or agree with. 

Let’s be reasonable. We cannot simply ignore the assertion in our Declaration of Independence that God has given us inalienable rights like the freedoms of speech and religion – and that it is the duty of government to “secure” those rights.  

As former teenage boy who was once helped by a man in the mold of Kennedy, I know how important men like him are. Now that I’m a dad, I would love for my two sons to have coaches and teachers like him – people who live out the principles of honor, hard work, conviction and compassion. These are things we can all agree are right and good.

I hope the Supreme Court eventually agrees to take Kennedy’s case – and that common sense will prevail.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its daily flagship broadcast. He’s the author of “When Parenting Isn’t Perfect,” “ReFOCUS: Living a Life That Reflects God’s Heart,” “The Good Dad,” and “Marriage Done Right: One Man, One Woman.”