Courage is indispensable for both spreading and preserving the truth of Christ. Jesus promised that spreading the gospel would meet resistance: "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matthew 24:9). And Paul warned that, even in the church, faithfulness to the truth would be embattled: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30; see also 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Coach Joe’s is the high school football coach who was fired because he took a knee for a brief, personal prayer on the 50-yard line after games.
But there is so much more to Coach Kennedy. His story is one of resilience, courage and perseverance.
After a difficult childhood that included moving in and out of foster homes, Coach Kennedy sought discipline and stability. This led him to serve his country in the armed forces for 20 years, most of that time in the U.S. Marine Corps. His service included two deployments during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
While overseas, he witnessed firsthand what the absence of religious freedom looked like. This experience gave him a greater appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here in America. It also gave him a first-hand perspective of why we cannot take our constitutional rights for granted.
In case you haven’t had an opportunity to hear about Coach Kennedy’s military service, we encourage you read this inspiring interview: Coach Joe Kennedy: How 20 Years in the Marine Corps Gave Him the Courage to Kneel.
As a Marine, Coach Joe took an oath to protect the Constitution. But fighting on the battlefield was only one part—indeed, only the beginning—of his duty and service to his country. Not long after leaving the service, he’d once again be called to defend the Constitution. Although this time, he wouldn’t be wearing a military uniform.
Many people often ask: Why did Coach Kennedy kneel to pray in the first place?
In 2008, Coach Kennedy returned home from military service and got connected with the local football team. But it wasn’t something he sought out. One day, while out for a run, someone driving by asked him if he had any experience coaching. He told that person about his military service and that he thought he could use what he’d learned in the service to be a coach.
When he became a football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state, Coach made a personal commitment to God. After every football game—win or lose—he would take a knee to pray for his team and thank God for the opportunity to be a coach. So, at his inaugural game, Coach Kennedy knelt on the 50-yard line for a brief, personal prayer.
For seven years Coach Joe lived out his faith on the field without receiving any complaints. Shockingly—after a compliment from a school administrator from a visiting team—the Bremerton School District prohibited him from engaging in “demonstrative religious activity” and ultimately told him any religious expression would have to be done where nobody could see him.
Coach Kennedy wasn’t going to renounce his commitment simply because government officials told him to stop praying. He wasn’t going to back down simply because opposition came his way.
As a combat veteran, Coach Kennedy knows first-hand the sacrifices one must make to protect the liberties we cherish—especially the right to freely live out one’s faith. Not praying on his own after games would mean breaking his commitment to God and forfeiting the liberties he defended.
He had to live up to what he’d learned as a U.S. Marine: to be semper fidelis—always faithful. So, he continued to pray—which eventually cost him the job that he loved. Despite the consequences, he knew, deep down, staying true to his faith was the right thing to do.
Coach Kennedy has braved nearly seven years of litigation. His case has gone up and down and back up again through the federal courts. Despite numerous setbacks, his courage and tenacity have brought him to this vital moment to present his case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Looking back on Coach Kennedy’s journey, it’s clear the many adversities he faced in life—from his tough childhood to his military service—prepared him to take a stand for his constitutional rights, as well as for the rights of all Americans.
Ahead of the upcoming Supreme Court argument, we applaud and commemorate Coach Kennedy for his heroic perseverance, both on the frontlines of war and on the legal battlefront. Time after time, this Marine-turned-football-coach has led by example, showing us that we must never back down in our commitment to both God and country.
On Monday April 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. First Liberty has fought for Coach Kennedy through a six-year legal battle and now the Court has an opportunity to protect the right of every American to live out their faith, including praying in public, without the fear of punishment.
This article was originally published at FirstLiberty.org. Republished with permission.
Ben Peterson, Founder and CEO of Engage Your Destiny
An eight-year U.S. Army veteran serving two years in Iraq, Ben Peterson experienced the trauma of war. The prospect of coming home left him feeling extraordinarily vulnerable.
Upon arrival, Peterson and his comrades were personally welcomed home by a squad of Vietnam veterans. That day, Peterson not only lunged into the loving arms of his family, he cherished the embrace of an earlier generation who also knew war’s brutality. Considering Vietnam vets were largely spurned when they returned home, their show of honor and compassion left an indelible mark on Peterson as he transitioned into “normal” life.
In 2016, Peterson founded the nonprofit organization Engage Your Destiny, which has a mission to build spiritual resilience in the men and women of the United States Armed Forces by focusing on engaging active military, veterans and their families through digital and in person experiences. Engage Your Destiny’s mission is to bring honor, help and healing to those who have served.
Peterson is also the visionary behind Heroes Honor Festival happening May 27-28 at the Daytona International Speedway. The event is a calling for Peterson to give Vietnam veterans the long overdue celebration they deserve and need.
True Strength: My Journey from Half-God To Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life.
On television, as the star of the popular Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Kevin Sorbo portrayed an invincible demi god. He relished living the part—putting in 14-hour days on set, doing his own stunts, and relentlessly working out at the gym. Until one day, it all came to an abrupt end.
Now, for the first time, Sorbo shares what viewers didn’t know: he suffered three strokes from an aneurysm in his shoulder that had been radiating blood clots throughout his body, likely for months. He was left partially blind and entirely incapacitated at just 38 years old. Appearances are everything in Hollywood, so Sorbo and the production studio hid the full details of his condition from the media. After all, how could the strongest man in the world be… fragile?
To continue filming Hercules, the number-one worldwide syndicated TV series at the time, they frantically reworked scripts and revamped production to allow for the star’s severely limited involvement. But as the effects of the strokes persisted—with painful, mysterious, debilitating symptoms—and physicians could offer few answers, Sorbo grew increasingly despondent. What happens when your entire identity vanishes? True Strength is the story of how one man faced the unimaginable and ultimately found the real measure of success.
With tongue-in-cheek humor and an unfailingly candid voice, Sorbo reflects on his childhood in Minnesota, his early modeling and acting days, and his hard-charging charmed life in television. He recounts the onset of his stroke symptoms, the frightening hospitalizations, his battle with depression, and fighting for a recovery that defied medical expectations. And how, through it all, love conspired to save him from missing out on what matters.
With this refreshingly honest account of celebrity, personal tragedy, and the power of letting go, Sorbo aims to blaze a trail for anyone who may have suffered a serious setback in life and is struggling to find their way forward.
Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall is a former high school principal and associate superintendent with the Provo City School District. He has been involved with suicide prevention for the past thirty years. He is nationally sought after for his expertise in postvention.
Dr. Hudnall is the founder of Hope4Utah, a non-profit, community-based organization dedicated to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. The school-based program, Hope Squad, has been responsible for over 5,000 students referred for help and over 1,000 hospitalized. The Hope Squad program is now in over 950 schools around the world.
For over fifteen years Dr. Hudnall has led a state-wide volunteer suicide crisis team that has responded to over fifty youth suicides.
Dr. Hudnall has presented at over 100 national and state conferences on suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. He also presents on bullying, connectedness, community collaboration, and school safety. Dr. Hudnall was invited to testify before the United States Surgeon General on suicide in Utah. He has presented to the U.S. Department of Health and at the national conferences of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Association of Suicidology. Dr. Hudnall was also invited to participate in a webinar on African American and suicide by the White House.
Under Greg’s direction, over 60,000 people nationwide have been trained in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. He has presented across the United States and to many countries around the world on suicide prevention, including to the Minister of Education for Madrid, Spain. Dr. Hudnall is considered one of the leading experts in community and school-based suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. He lives by the mantra, “while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire community to save one.”
Michael Berry is Vice President of External Affairs, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. He joined First Liberty in 2013 after serving for seven years on active duty as an attorney with the U.S. Marine Corps. Among Mr. Berry’s numerous positions within the Marine Corps, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and from 2009-2012, Mr. Berry served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Berry continues to proudly serve our nation as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.
As Vice President of External Affairs, Mr. Berry is responsible for leading First Liberty’s efforts that build and execute strategic initiatives with external entities. As a recognized subject-matter expert on religious liberty, Mr. Berry has testified before Congress, and he is routinely invited to speak across the nation about religious freedom. Mr. Berry has also been featured hundreds of times in various national media outlets.
Mr. Berry earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, and he earned his law degree from The Ohio State University.
After thirty-five years in the hotel restaurant business, Gary LeBlanc unexpectedly discovered his passion while volunteering during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was there while serving others in his hometown of New Orleans that Gary first saw the incredible difference that a hot meal can make, but as a volunteer he was surprised and outraged by the quality of food being served. Though the victims and first responders were grateful for every meal, there was little to no food safety being practiced by the other relief agencies. It was all about fast, cheap, and quantity. In the months following his efforts in Louisiana, Gary became inspired to the point of distraction by the idea of excellent food service in a disaster zone. It was this spark of inspiration that led to his founding of Mercy Chefs, a national, faith-based non-profit disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization that serves high quality professionally prepared meals to victims, first responders and volunteers in natural disasters and national emergencies. For sixteen years now, Gary has led Mercy Chefs into over 29 states across the country and in 12 countries around the world, serving more than 20 million meals since 2006. As Mercy Chefs’ reach expands, Gary consistently remains committed to his original mission to, “feed people; just go feed people.”