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During the NFL season, I think about Kirk Cousins a lot. My team, the Green Bay Packers, plays his Minnesota Vikings at least twice per season, and we always seem to lose one of those games in a deeply embarrassing fashion.

But when I’m reporting on religion, I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about Cousins. Until earlier this month, when I discovered his name on a Supreme Court brief.

Cousins is one of several current and former NFL players involved in this term’s big school prayer case, which the Supreme Court heard Monday. The case centers on Joe Kennedy, a public high school football coach fighting to pray at the 50-yard line after each game.

In their briefs, the various NFL players share their perspectives on the conflict, outlining the close bond between players and coaches and the role faith has played in their careers.

Some urged the court to rule against the coach, emphasizing the importance of protecting public school players from faith-related pressures. Others, including Cousins, argued that the coach has as much of a right to pray to as he does to kneel during the national anthem.

“Audiences understand symbolic acts of speech on the field to reflect the views of the individual athletes and coaches who engage in them, whether they are Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Shaquille O’Neal or Joe Kennedy,” says the brief from Cousins, Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles and a handful of other players.

To get some of the backstory on how NFL players got involved in legal work, I reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the law firms that worked on the Cousins brief. Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for the alliance, told me the project came about through friendships that he and other attorneys have with former NFL players and through the Alliance Defending Freedom’s professional relationship with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Word just kind of spread informally. ... Many individuals saw this as a very important topic that would impact them as athletes,” he said.

By speaking with the NFL players, Langhofer and other attorneys were able to add nuance to the arguments they hoped to make. The resulting brief offers a mix of traditional legal claims and on-the-ground observations.

“When you combine those two, it makes for a powerful statement,” Langhofer said.

In the weeks ahead, the justices will draw on these NFL briefs and others filed in the case to understand the significance of the debate that’s in front of them. The court’s decision is expected by the end of June.


Fresh off the press

Are school prayer rules about to change?

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A praying football coach makes his case


Term of the week: Dudeism

Dudeism, which is also known as the Church of the Latter-day Dude, is a belief system based on the movie, “The Big Lebowski.” It aims to capture the spirit of the movie’s main character by urging followers to “take it easy” and kick back with friends. The official website for Dudeism claims that there are more than 600,000 ordained Dudeist priests.

Last week, the New York Daily News reported that a New York City municipal worker had missed his shot at a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate because he based his request on Dudeism. The leader of Dudeism, known as “The Dudely Lama,” said he’s received so many requests for help circumventing vaccine mandates that he added information about his neutral stance on the policies to his group’s website.


What I’m reading ...

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a new program designed to streamline the resettlement process for Ukrainian refugees. Titled “Uniting for Ukraine,” it will allow individual Americans and organizations like churches to sponsor refugees. The initiative is getting mixed reviews from faith-based refugee resettlement experts, who told Religion News Service that the Biden administration shouldn’t “outsource” the moral obligation to care for people in need.

Cremation is on the rise in the U.S. as the country rethinks past burial traditions and looks for more unique ways to commemorate a loved one’s life. However, some scholars believe the shift also stems from a growing discomfort with death, according to The Washington Post. “They argue that cremation can also have a desensitizing effect on families. It can be too easy. For some, it’s drive-through death.”

My friend Bobby Ross recently published a lovely profile of a major figure in religious freedom law: Lori Windham from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He wrote about her membership in the Church of Christ and her quiet family life.


Odds and ends

Remember the death row inmate who just won his Supreme Court case? Now a Texas district attorney is asking that he not be put to death.