Attorney: Football Coach Fired for Prayer Won’t Back Down
Joseph Kennedy is a Marine who served his country for 18 years. From 2008 to 2015, he coached football at Bremerton High School. Now, he’s taking a case about prayer at schools to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last year, “Coach Kennedy” was placed on administrative leave, then subsequently suspended and not rehired, due to praying after games with students at Bremerton School District. According to First Liberty Senior Counsel Mike Berry, who is representing the former assistant coach, “it was a compliment that started the incident.”
“He never received any complaints,” Berry told The Stream. “Someone from the opposing team’s school saw the practice and complimented the school on how wonderful they thought it was, which caused the school to investigate the situation.”
The school ordered Kennedy to stop praying with students. While the prayers focused on the health of the players and thanking God for their safety during games, the publicly funded district said in a statement that it feared legal action if someone made the prayers an issue, thanks to a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision. According to the district, it offered Kennedy a private place to pray, but he refused. The former coach did agree to not include others in his post-game prayer.
After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December, Kennedy filed a lawsuit in August against Bremerton School District. A district court ruled against his request for a preliminary injunction in September, which led to the October 3 appeal.
“The court said all the things Coach Kennedy does are ‘laudable,’ but you cannot do them ‘in this climate,’” Berry said. “We believe the First Amendment protects the right to the free exercise of religion in any climate, which is why we appealed the injunction.”
“Coach Kennedy was a Marine for twenty years, where he fought for our Constitutional rights every day. He believes that this is just one more way to stand up for our Constitutional freedoms.”
According to a press release from First Liberty, Kennedy is not looking for monetary compensation; he wants to be reinstated as coach.
“It’s the duty of the school to protect the religious freedom of every employee and student regardless of what their faith is or even if they have no faith at all,” said Berry. “But the law does not allow them to take adverse action against a coach simply because he took a knee at the fifty-yard line for thirty seconds.”