Attorney: Football Coach Fired for Prayer Won’t Back Down

By Dustin Siggins Published on October 6, 2016

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.”

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  • Gary

    The default position of the courts is opposition to Christianity. So it will be hard to win a case in those courts.

  • Does anyone have contact information where people can go to express support for this coach? Is does no good at all for us to just shake our heads and grumble. We need to do something positive. I’ll do a little searching and if I find anything, I’ll edit this comment to add it.

  • You’d be OK with a Coach Kennedy that did Muslim prayers? How about Satanist prayers?

    Or are Christian prayers the only ones that would be legal in this context?

  • Bryan

    Bob, As long as it’s voluntary or it’s something he does on his own, I am absolutely OK with it. That’s what religious freedom is, the right to practice one’s religious beliefs. If he was praying to Allah or Satan it would still be within his rights. If he were to sacrifice a virgin, then there would be an issue because now he’s infringing on someone else’s right to live.
    If I remember correctly, he takes a knee at the 50 yard line after the games and prays with his players. He’s not forcing them to be there for the prayer time so it’s not infringing on anyone else’s rights. From the accounts I remember, he’s not benching players that don’t participate in the after game prayer time. So again no one’s rights are being infringed upon or dismissed. It seems like something he does and if the players join him that’s fine and the ones that don’t, that’s fine too.
    What is being challenged is the supposed “right” of a person to go through life and not see something they don’t want to see. While a person is certainly allowed to go through life with their own set of blinders on (most of us do it anyway about one thing or another), that is not a “right” given to the government to enforce.

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