John Fuller: You know, religious freedom is in the crosshairs in our country today. And some evidence is the increasing number of court cases involving people of faith. They’re just simply standing up for their constitutional rights, but they’re being targeted. On this Focus on the Family broadcast, we’ll talk about the threat to your religious liberties and how you can help protect those. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I am greatly concerned that we’re seeing religious liberties being devalued in the American culture - something that is so basic to our freedoms in this country. We were built on the back of religious liberty. And some in our culture are wanting to, I think, do away with that - not put that as one of the primary constitutional rights. And it’s popping up all over the place, mostly in the work environment where people who want to express their faith, who are simply, you know, praying silently-- that becomes an offense to somebody. And they want to do something about it. And they want to hem us in as believers in Jesus. One big example is the protracted legal battle involving high school football coach Joe Kennedy in Bremerton, Washington. I heard about that story, and I said, man, what is going on here?
And we talked to him by phone. And Coach Kennedy is here now with us-- also with his attorney Mr. Kelly Shackelford. And two months ago, three judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision from 2015 to suspend Coach Kennedy from his job coaching for kneeling at the 50-yard line after the game and praying for the safety of the boys and the good outcome of the game - just thanking God. I did that as a 15-year-old, 16-year-old, 17-year-old. And so my heart went out to Coach Kennedy. And I’ve had people in my life, coaches, who were instrumental in building my character - good men, particularly, who taught me what it meant to be honest and trustworthy and truthful and really to grow up to be, I hope, a good man. And I’m not gonna sit down and be silent when these guys are under attack because they do such good work in our culture.
John: And you can get details about this case and a number of cases that are being argued, if you will, right now in various legal courts at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And before his suspension, Coach Joe Kennedy was head football coach of the JV team at Bremerton High School from 2008 to 2015. And he was an assistant coach for the varsity team. And his attorney - as you noted, Jim - is Kelly Shackelford, who has served for 20 years as the president and CEO of First Liberty, which is the largest legal firm dedicated to protecting religious freedoms. He’s a constitutional scholar. And he’s argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jim: Welcome, gentlemen.
Kelly Shackelford: It’s great to be here.
Joe Kennedy: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jim: Sorry it’s under these kind of circumstances. I’d rather go throw a football with you, coach (laughter).
Joe: That would be awesome. I’d enjoy that.
Jim: My arm’s not what it used to be, but I still like to think it is. Let me start there, coach. How did this get started in Bremerton there? You were coaching - just give us the lay of the land. You’re coaching JV how many years. You’re also a 20-year Marine vet. So thank you for the service to our country...
Joe: My pleasure.
Jim: ...For standing up for these very liberties that you’re now being taken to court over. I just - it’s breathtaking that we’re having to defend our religious liberties in the country the way we are today. So paint the landscape for us.
Joe: Well, I started out - I had no desire to be a coach or anything. It wasn’t something that I thought I would be doing. And I was out running one day. And one of the guys that worked at the school - the athletic director saw me running by and said - he pulled over and said, hey, you ever thought about coaching?
Joe: And I said, no. But they offered me the job. And - yeah - and one thing led to another then I really had to really start praying about it. And I saw the movie Facing The Giants. And you know, I got asked if I wanted the job on a Friday. And Saturday night, I saw that movie. And it dropped me to my knees. And I hate to admit, I was weeping like a baby. I was...
Jim: What in that movie stirred you? - because some people may not have seen it. Others did, so tell us.
Joe: It was just the fact that this guy - he really had to turn his life completely around. He tried to do things on his own. And he couldn’t do anything unless God was behind him. And once God got behind him, he really realized what he could really do with his life, his family life and these kids’ lives and the community, everything around it. And it just - I mean, it was that moment when God really speaks to somebody. And he said - he goes, I’m calling you to be a coach. And so Monday, I said, yeah, I’m all in. And from that moment on, right there when I was on my knees, I was like God, I’m going to give you - just like in the movie - I’m going to give you the glory after every game, win or lose. And really that’s the way it started, and...
Jim: Now, let me interject. What did that look like? - because I’m sure people are listening saying, well, maybe Coach Joe - I don’t know if you go by that, but I...
Joe: ...Coach Kennedy but...
Jim: Paul Moro (ph), my football coach in high school - I called him Coach Mo.
Jim: So it’s so close I can’t get away from it - Coach Joe. So what did that look like for you to honor the Lord? Paint that picture for us. At the end of a game you would pray.
Joe: Right. So after the football game - it’s traditional - both teams go across right on the 50. And they do the, you know, good game, good game, and they...
Joe: ...Really just cussed at each other and said, “I’m going to get you afterwards.” And, um, I would meet with the other coaches because being the head JV coach, I would be the - you know, playing the - the same team on that Monday.
Joe: So we would be right there on the 50, talking with the coaches, and soon as it was done, I would just turn around because I’m standing there on the 50. I would just take a knee - and I don’t know, maybe 30 seconds - I have no idea - and just say, God, thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thanks for those young men that were out there battling and everything that you’ve done for us.
Jim: But this was all silent.
Joe: Oh, absolutely silent.
Jim: Yeah, you’re not even expressing it verbally, you’re just taking a knee.
Joe: No. And none of the coaches even knew what I was doing. Coaches, later, they were like, I thought you were taking grass samples out there.
Joe: They had no idea what I was doing out there.
Jim: Right, so you weren’t explicit about it. You were just quietly going about doing that thing that you felt you needed to do to honor the Lord in the whole decision about becoming a coach.
Jim: Anything else in that regard that you want to say to the folks? The - anything else that you were doing that could be suspect?
Joe: Well - well, you know, the - the - you know, the kids - they’re - they’re out there. They see what’s going on. They go, and they do their fight song and stuff. And when the kids saw what I was doing, I had a couple kids approach me and they said, hey, Coach, you know, hey, we’re Christians, and what are you doing out there? And I was like, well, I’m saying a prayer. And they were like, can we join you? And this is America. You could do whatever you want to do. You know, if you want to join me, cool. If not, cool. I - makes no difference to me.
Jim: Which is the right response - I don’t see why a person would have a problem with that response. That’s the right response.
Joe: Well, yeah. And the school’s policy is, you cannot encourage nor discourage kids in prayer when...
Jim: You couldn’t do that any better.
Jim: Do it or don’t do it, I don’t care.
Joe: Yeah, made no difference.
Jim: It’s unfortunate, actually, because I would prefer to live where if somebody came up and said that, you’d say, yeah, let’s pray right now. But you know that line, and you didn’t cross it.
Joe: And it just started from there, and before you know it, more and more kids started coming out. And then they started inviting the other team to come out. And by the end of...
Jim: And that was the kids inviting the other kids.
Joe: Oh, yeah, they - they were doing...
Jim: ...Not you or any other coach.
Joe: No, I - I - and I would have coaches - all the coaches know each other, and I’d have coaches - they’d come out there, and they would pray with me too. You know, it was really no big deal. I never took roll. I never knew who was out there or who was not out there.
Joe: And, you know, in the last year in 2015, right before they fired me was - we actually had every single district, you know, school district out there, opposing team out there with us on the 50.
Jim: Yeah, and really, the amazing thing - it’s all for the benefit of everybody. I mean, there’s nothing dangerous going on at that.
Joe: No, it was a moment of peace.
Joe: It wasn’t like I’m a preachy guy. I’m not like, oh, God, come and save us all. It was, hey, I’m giving thanks for what they did. I mean, these kids battle. They go out there, and they really try to kill each other while they’re on the field.
Jim: Oh, I know. I broke a few bones playing high school football.
Joe: Yeah, you know how much you put into it. And I just got it - you know, that competitiveness. And for them to leave out of there where they all are - you know, moment of peace, and they actually could clap each other on the back and say, hey, that was a good game, man. Wow, you really knocked the heck outta me.
Jim: That’s called sportsmanship. It used to be called that.
Joe: There it is, yeah, absolutely.
Jim: And it’s rarely developed in players today, unfortunately. Kelly, I want to pivot to you. And thanks for being with us - as you’re attorney - constitutional lawyer, et cetera - what in the world is going on, Kelly? I mean, at that bigger, 40,000-foot view, um, why are people that go to law school being taught about this, what I would say, dangerous definition of separation? I don’t think Jefferson, one of the founding fathers in - meant it to go this way. In fact, he said in his letter that’s often cited as a separation letter that no government should come between a man and his God. And it seems like we’re always coming, as a government, between people and their God. So where’d this all get messed up?
Kelly: Boy, that’s a big question, but the quick answer, I guess, is the average student doesn’t even read the Constitution in law school. I mean, it’s just - it’s - yeah.
Jim: OK, let’s just start right there. That seems odd.
Kelly: It’s sometimes findable in the appendix to the books that they’re reading. What...
Jim: So what are they reading, just opinions?
Kelly: They’re reading opinions. And, of course, we’ve had - you know, it reminds me a lot of the same thing you see with - with ministers and the Bible. Uh, it - some can take the Bible and then just kind of make it mean whatever they want it to mean. And the same thing happens with judges who don’t feel bound by the words of the Constitution. And so we’ve had a straying, and you’re right.Our founders came here for religious freedom.Uh, you know, they didn’t wantto have what they had in other countries where they’re - they wanted the most free and vibrant expression of religious freedom by all Americans as they desired. And so, I want to make it clear that with coach’s, uh, situation, it didn’t even come from a complaint. Somebody said, this is really neat, what’s going on.
And the next thing you know, letters start coming from the lawyers now, because now they know that for seven years, the coach has been going by himself and going to a knee, and there’s others. And so by the time we were at the end, we said, look, the coach just wants to do what he did from the very beginning - go by himself, go to a knee, give thanks to the Lord. And so they said, no, we’re not going to allow him to even go - and that’s what he was fired for. At the end, there was nobody with him. He went by himself. The kids were singing the fight song. And what they said is, you can’t do that and...
Jim: And why? Why can’t this guy do this?
Kelly: Well, because he - they said that because when he works for the government, he, therefore - like, he has the Bremerton shirt on - that somehow, this means that he’s now - the government is now forcing prayer on everybody who can see it.And so for instance, the9th Circuit opinion said that a coach is not ever allowed to pray, if anyone can see them. Not a student or anything like that, because they admitted in this case - they conceded that he never tried to coerce any kids in any way.The opinion by the Ninth Circuit said even a spectator - even if a spectator could see the coach praying, that that would be a violation of the Constitution. Now, think of what this would mean.
Jim: This is what’s chilling to me. This is, like, Thought Police, if I could just put it in street language. This, to me, is - is egregious.
Kelly: He can go to the center of the field. He can talk to the other coach. But he - can he speak? Yes. But if he says something religious, then he’s fired. And so - I mean, that would mean teachers couldn’t bow over - their heads over their meals in the lunch cafeteria because a student could see ‘em. That would mean that anybody who works for the government in any capacity - doesn’t have to be a coach - if you ever see ‘em pray or wear a yarmulke or anything else or cross, now that’s a violation under this opinion. It’s a really, uh - it’s a really draconian decision that’s really frightening and, I think, should be awake-upcall. And it - and it - what it would do is push out every person of faith from holding any positions. And, of course, these are some of the most wonderful people we have in our country and that serve our country. And that’s why Joe Kennedy went and served in the Marines, to fight for these very freedoms.
Jim: What’s really egregious to me is they’re - they’re looking to the little guy to prove their point. And I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but a coach. So, all of this influence and power comes down upon you, to use you as a bad example. And to me, has anybody stopped to think Congress opens every day with prayer? Think of that. They didn’t go attack the Congress. They’re not trying to change the practice of the Congress that opens every day with a verbalprayer. They come to you, the silent, praying coach at the 50-yard line after a game. And they’re going to make an example out of you. I’d say, go attack the big boys. You want to go to Congress, try to challenge them, and see what happens there. I just find that amazing. It’s David and Goliath, isn’t it, Joe?
Joe: Oh, absolutely. It’s funny that they just thought it - you know, because, personally, I - I’ll be honest. I really wanted to back down at the beginning, because the selfish part of me, the flesh of me, really wanted to stay there with the kids. They were the most important thing to me, not the job - even my faith. My faith doesn’t change wherever I’m at. But giving up everything for what I believe in, it should never have to come to that. And setting that example for my kids, these kids are, you know, they’re a lot of single-family homes. You know, their - their parents are doing the best that they can. Bremerton’s a - you know, a blue-collar town, and these kids need people in their lives that, you know, will stand up for what is right. And so if I just backed down at that moment and said, fine, you know, I’ll stay as a coach, what example did I just set for those kids, to just give in when it gets tough? I’m telling them to fight harder on the field when things get tough, when they’re down. So I had to be that example. And there’s no way I could be a coach if I just gave in like that.
Jim: Well, and again, I appreciate that, because I lived that, Joe. I was that kid from that single-parent mom. At that point in high school, I’m now living with my brother. My mom and dad are both dead. And Coach Paul Moro was that guy for me that grabbed me by the face mask and said, you want to lead this team? Then you need to show your character, because you’re kind of a punk right now. I love that straight talk. I responded. I want to be that better man! Show me! And it meant everything to me. And I think part of my energy is, it seems to me those that oppose religious expression, they’d rather I’d be dead in the gutter as a 16-year-old than to, you know, allow me to engage somebody who is really interested in me. Coach Paul Moro offered to adopt me as a coach, as my football coach. That - I didn’t go with him. I said no.
He went on to become one of the winningest coaches in Arizona history. I should have said yes. (Laughter) But the point of that is he loved me. And I don’t see the ACLU stepping up for me in that moment. They would try to keep him from that relationship with me, that healthy, godly relationship. And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of them being more satisfied that I have a needle in my arm or I have three kids by the time I’m 17, outside of marriage. They’d be much more pleased with that than for me to come into a relationship with Christ. And it is nonsense. You are much better off following God than following these rascals.
Kelly: And - and, you know, one of the amazing things that happened is - a lot of things have been amazing that happened with Coach Kennedy’s case - but one of the things is the local newspaper editorial writer in Seattle, who wrote an editorial saying, I’m an agnostic. But if my son was old enough, this is the coach I would want for my son.
Jim: Bam. That’s it.
Kelly: Uh, and so that says everything, uh, about Coach Kennedy and who he is and the type of leaders we need. If we start excluding people and - because of religious discrimination, because, oh no, we can’t have this guy because look, he’s over there by himself saying a 15-second prayer to God, thanking him for the privilege of coaching these young men, you’re like, this is the guy we want, the guy who is humble and is going, you know, uh, this is a privilege, to coach these young men. Instead, these opinions would say these are the guys we’re going to push out.
Jim: I’ll tell you, Kelly, if that’s the government we end up with, we have tyranny - that they’re going to control your thoughts, control your speech, especially in this space of a religious expression because they don’t like it. That’s the bottom line. Let’s not play games here. They don’t like it, and they don’t want it expressed anywhere and, uh, even in your home. (Laughter) So what’s the next step here, with this case particularly?
Kelly: Well, we’re - we’re - what you do first is you file an appeal to the - we’re in the Ninth Circuit, which is very well-known. It’s in San Francisco. It’s the more liberal of the Federal Court of Appeals in the country. So, uh, that decision can be appealed, which we did, to the full Ninth Circuit. You just get three judges at random. There’s actually 29 of them on that circuit.
Jim: That’s amazing. I didn’t know it was that large a number.
Kelly: Yeah. And - and they don’t - you know, they don’t have to take that. That’s just something where they can decide, we’ll - we’ll redo the case, or we won’t. If they don’t, though, or even if they do and you don’t like the opinion, then the next step is the United States Supreme Court. And that’s where everybody has known, you know, this thing is probably heading, in that direction.
Jim: One of many cases, unfortunately.
Kelly: Yeah. And this is - I would just encourage, if anybody - you know, and certainly Focus on the Family listeners - be in prayer. Uh, this is really important,and I think they understand why. Um, this is about the future of our country. This is about, you know, as you mentioned, we’re in the middle of a - this battle, and where are we going to end up? Uh, really be in prayer. And I know, I want to thank Focus. I know y’all are going tohave a link on your site where people can go to, uh, - it’ll link us to the First Liberty site, where we’ll have, right on the top there, you’ll - for Joe Kennedy where they can send him a note,a message. Uh, we will make sure he gets those, because he’s not expressing all that he’s gone through. It’s been tough.
Jim: I can only imagine.
Kelly: And - and they can keep up with what happens in the case. Um, and be in prayer about each step of the case, because I think this is one of the most important cases in the country, I think, in addition to the legal - just the model. I think the question to all of us are, if we were in Joe’s situation, would we be willing to take a knee knowing that we were going to lose our job for our faith? I hope our country is not coming to that. But it is certain situations. And I think Joe has been a model of being faithful, even though what’s happening to him is wrong.
Jim: Well, I certainly appreciate that. And I think one of the key factors - and you said it, Joe - you said that you had to think about whether you wanted to move forward. And I think that intimidation factor is one of the tools that those who oppose religious expression are using. It’s a classic intimidation, whether you’re Jack Phillips the baker and - or others, the photographer and, you know, all the - the florist. I mean, all of those folks who are saying, you know, this is a bridge too far. I can’t do this, because it works against my convictions as a Christian. I just feel it is almost, you know, again a tyrannical approach to intimidation and silencing people. And I’m so grateful, not just for your coaching of courage on the field, but your example of courage off the field and what you’re doing to say enough is enough, and I’m not going to be intimidated by those in the culture who want to silence me as a Christian. And I’m grateful for your example. Thank you.
Joe: Hey, thanks a lot, guys. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Kelly: It’s been a real a real privilege to be here today.
John: Hm. And as our program continues in just a moment, we’ll be talking with attorney Kristen Waggoner about some other big legal battles for religious freedom involving small business owners and you’ll want to stay tuned for that.
Jim: John, before we hear from Kristen, let me encourage our friends to do a couple of things. First, pray! Here’s a case about our basic First Amendment right to pray, so let’s do that. Let’s pray for these cases we’re hearing about. Secondly, stay informed on issues like this one by subscribing to Focus on the Family’s Citizen Magazine. That is a great tool to provide you information and insight. Finally, support Focus on the Family. We are here to stand in that gap and to present this information so more people are aware of what’s at stake and how to pray and what to do and one of the things you can do is send Focus a gift so we can air these kinds of programs. If you can do that today, with a gift of any amount, I want to send you a one-year subscription to Citizen as our way of saying thank you.
John: And, Jim, we recently recorded by phone a conversation with Attorney Kristen Waggoner. She’s a senior vice president with Alliance Defending Freedom and has actually won six cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. She’s the lead counsel for Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop and we asked for her insights about that landmark case.
Kristen Waggoner: Well, he sought to simply live consistent with his faith and to operate his business consistent with his faith. The title of his business - when he first opened it he chose to name it Masterpiece Cakeshop. And the reason that he did that was twofold. One was that he was a Christian, and he wanted to remind himself every time he wrote the name of his business down that he could not serve two masters, and that everything he did in that cake shop, he wanted to bring glory to God. And the second reason he named it Masterpiece Cakeshop was because he had a vision to create an art gallery of cakes, and he wanted them to be masterpieces. So if you not just look at his name, but even look at the logo he chose nearly 25 years ago, it is an artist’s palette with paint on it. And that’s how he approaches the cakes that he makes.
So, wanting to bring glory to God when he first opened the business, he and his wife decided that there were certain events - certain cakes that they would not be able to make, because it would violate his religious convictions. Halloween cakes are one of those, um, lewd cakes, anti-family cakes - just different messages that would violate who he is. Um, he couldn’t participate in that. And all was well, until a couple came in, um - two men - and said they wanted him to design a cake - custom cake for their wedding. He politely declined. He apologized, said I can sell you anything else in my shop, any other custom cake, but I just can’t do a same-sex wedding. And they left. They boycotted and picketed him and filed a complaint with Colorado. And that complaint has gone all the way up through the court system to the United States Supreme Court, where it will be heard on December 5th.
Jim: And, in fact, there’s other cases that are attached to this now, uh - other religious expression cases. Can you talk about that - that process within the courts? How these other cases are now, you know, kind of subservient to this one, and it’ll settle all of them. How many are subservient to this one?
Kristen: Well, there are a number of cases that are being litigated in the lower courts, but I want to be clear that all of them deal with the right of an artist to decide what kind of art they will create - to decide what they will say, how they will say it, or whether they will remain silent. So there’s always expression involved, and there’s always a wedding involved in these lower court cases. So it’s whether people of faith can be forced to participate in an expressive event and create something that is the centerpiece of that event. Some of the cases involvegraphic website designers. There’s one in Colorado. There’s a,photographer and blogger in Wisconsin. There, um, is also inArizona calligraphers and hand painters. And there’s afilmmaker in Minnesota. And some of those are even facing jail time, because they won’t create art that is inconsistent with their faith.
Jim:But, the people that I’ve met, like Jack Phillips, your client - these are not hateful people. These are people who are trying to live out their conviction. Talk to that issue of how, in a pluralistic society - how do we all live together politely?
Kristen: Well, I think that you’re - you’re keying off something that’s very important, which is for this country’s history, one of the things that has - has made us great is our commitment to robust religious freedom and free speech.If the court decides against Jack in this case, it will be the first time in the history of this nation where a court has forced an artist to create expression in violation of their - their conscience.And even if we don’t care about religion, even if, maybe we support same-sex marriage, civil liberties travel together, and if we care about other freedoms, we will protect the right of all people to live consistent with their conscience.
John: That’s Kristen Waggoner and she’s an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. Jim, here at the close of our broadcast on Focus on the Family, we want to remind people of the various tools that we have for them to stay informed and to make a difference in these kinds of cases.
Jim: Right, John, and we have to do something, as many in the culture try to run roughshod over our moral and spiritual convictions. You can make a difference in defending our religious freedoms by standing with us and the bottom line is-- if we don’t utilize these freedoms, they will be taken away.
John: Well, stay current on events with Citizen magazine, our publication to help you understand religious freedom and other cultural issues. Donate generously today to Focus on the Family and we’ll sign you up for that one-year subscription as our thank you gift to you.
Jim: And John, in fact, when people sign up now, we have a bonus edition, the December issue of the magazine, which is gonna cover a story on the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group that often is quoted in mainstream news reports as being the keeper of the hate list, so-called hate list,whichmany Christian groups are now being added to because we support a traditional view of marriage. It’s a great story and I would encourage you to get that subscription so you can get that December bonus issue.
John: And, Jim, folks can also sign up for your monthly newsletter. You often address cultural issues there. And we have a free Religious Freedom Kit, which explains your rights in the workplace and at school and it’ll give you more information about what you can do. All of this at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We’ll hear a godly perspective on sexuality and romance from Pastor Levi Lusko as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.