Joe Kennedy, the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state, knelt at the 50-yard-line Friday night to pray with players just as he had for the last seven years. He was joined by fans and opponents alike, and some who came to the game just to pray with him.
At the end of the Knights’ homecoming loss to the Centralia Tigers, Kennedy walked to the middle of the football field, ready to thank God all by himself.
The Bremerton School District had instructed him not to, because they believed he would be violating federal law.
But Kennedy prayed anyway, defying the order. When he opened his eyes, he saw a huge crowd of supporters around him.
Later the coach wept as he answered reporter’s questions, “I’ve got my eyes closed and I feel all these people around me. I’m like, God, I hope those aren’t kids … I’m sitting there and I’m going, ‘God, thank you for this opportunity.”
The school district ordered Kennedy not to pray, concerned it my be a violation of the federal law, based on the separation of church and state.
“The district is in no way taking away an athletic coach’s freedom of expression,” Superintendent Aaron Leavell said in a statement posted to the organization’s website.
The Seattle Times posted the following summary of Kennedy’s prayer:
“Lord, I thank you for these kids and the blessing you’ve given me with them. We believe in the game, we believe in competition and we can come into it as rivals and leave as brothers.”