A Football Coach’s Public Prayer: Cost & Victory

Author: Timothy Tin
Translator: Mandy Kwan

Credit: Elias Gayles | flickr.com/photos/elias_daniel/292872324

In the state of Washington, a high school football coach named Joe Kennedy made a promise to God in his prayer prior to a game in 2008, “I will pray after each game, whether winning or losing, to thank God for each teammate and letting me be a coach.” (https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/football-coach-joe-kennedy-prayer-sideline-fighting-game)His way of expressing his thanks to God is to walk to the center of the field at the conclusion of each game, to kneel down, and to utters a short thanksgiving prayer. For seven years since that promise, he has courageously expressed his personal testimony of his faith, and has received praise from the students and staff. However, the school district was alarmed and warned him that he could only pray on his own and was forbidden to lead the football players in corporate prayer. Later, an added restriction was implemented that forbade Kennedy praying in places where he would be seen by others. Eventually, during a football game in October of 2015, Kennedy was issued a final ultimatum—if he insisted on kneeling and praying in the center of the field when the game concluded, he would be forced to resign. However, Kennedy upheld his promise to God and prayed publicly at the game—thus ending his coaching career as the curtain fell on the football game.

His termination was not because of his inability to fulfill his work duties, nor was it a moral or legal transgression on his part. His prayer in a public space was an expression of his personal faith, causing no harm or loss to anyone. So why does a country that values freedom of speech and religion have a statute that prohibits educators from praying in public? Does that mean pastors and coaches must keep their religious beliefs as an undiscoverable secret? Once a student witnesses a public declaration of faith, would it be considered a serious offence? How can a simple word of prayer be punished with employment termination? Does that mean public prayers are only reserved for religious leaders or ceremonial gestures such as presidential inaugurations? Joe Kennedy paid a hefty price but he insisted on his testimony and stance on public prayer, as well as the belief of the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and religion. With the help of the First Liberty Institute, he brought the case to the local courts, and the case ascended to the Supreme Court, over the course of seven difficult years! On June 27, 2022, the Court decided in favor of Kennedy in a vote of 6 to 3, stating that his prayers on the field were an expression of his religious freedom, and Kennedy should not have been terminated. Though he lost his job, he at least won the legal battle and remains untarnished and innocent. His seven years of prayerful testimony earned him seven years of litigation and lawsuit. These fourteen years of endurance exemplify God’s glory and the victory of His follower’s faithful prayers!

In the Bible, there was a prophet named Daniel. Even though he was a high-ranking official, he still insisted on prostrating before God and praying three times a day. Later when this aroused the jealousies of his peers and tricked the king to order those who prayed to other gods be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel continued his prayers and was thrown into the den — with his employment terminated and his life in grave danger! God sealed the lions’ mouths and when the king visited the second day, the king said to him, “When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:20) but Daniel replied “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22)” Not only was Daniel safe and unharmed, he said, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:24) This illustrates what happens when the wicked are trying to harm the righteous, but rarely do people learn from the past.

Daniel was not the only Hebrew prophet who was persecuted for his faith. Even God’s only son Jesus Christ was framed by a group of jealous religious leaders. Though they were devout believers of God, they couldn’t tolerate being reprimanded and have their pride wounded. When crowds of people began to follow Jesus, these religious leaders were worried about their loss of status and authority. By aligning with the Roman Empire they hoped to use this alliance to rid of a so-called “religious threat”. Jesus’ resurrection has birthed a new century of global evangelism. Though Jerusalem was destroyed in 37 AD, the mighty Roman Empire has faded in its glory, Jesus’ followers have reached all corners of the world. It is evident that God’s love and charity is unstoppable. Though the wicked might appear to be the victor, God’s justice prevails and his judgement will not delay. Dear friends, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Author: Pastor of Christian Alliance Bible Church in Los Angeles, CA

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