Bremerton, Washington – After a long and arduous legal battle spanning seven years, a praying football coach is finally back to his job in Bremerton.
Joe Kennedy, a former football coach at Bremerton High School, was suspended in 2015 for praying on the field during games. Kennedy sued the school district, claiming that his religious rights were violated.
The legal battle made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 2019, the high court declined to hear the case. Despite this setback, Kennedy persisted in his fight and continued to appeal the case in lower courts. Finally, in a decision announced yesterday, the Court of Appeals ruled in Kennedy’s favor. The court stated that the school district’s actions violated Kennedy’s First Amendment rights, and ordered that he be reinstated to his job as a football coach.
Initially, the district claimed that his prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But later on the high court ruled that Bremerton School actually went against Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights. According to a report by the CBN, “the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 last June that the public school district violated the coach’s free speech and free exercise rights when it barred him from praying on the field after games.” Then a U.S. district judge issued an order in November instructing the Bremerton School District to reinstate him before March 15, 2023.
The order asked the school district to reinstate Kennedy to “his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023.”
The court’s order also said, “Bremerton School District shall not interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from kneeling at midfield to engage in a brief, quiet, personal religious ritual during the period after a football game in which the coaching staff are free to attend to personal matters.”
In addition, the court also noted, “Bremerton School District cannot retaliate against or take any future adverse employment action against Kennedy for conduct that complies with the terms of this order.”
On March 8 2023, Coach Joe Kennedy was reinstated to his former position based on the stance of is legal representative, First Liberty Institute, a not-for-profit legal firm that fights for religious freedom in Plano, Texas. “We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated,” First Liberty Institute Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser said in a statement.
The Bremerton School District released a statement on the district’s website on March 6.
“Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season. Mr. Kennedy has completed human resources paperwork and we are awaiting the results of his fingerprinting and background check. Mr. Kennedy will need to complete all training required by WIAA. Football coach contracts are approved by the Board at the August 3, 2023 board meeting, and begin in mid-August. As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice and other off-season football activities”.
“It’s been a long road,” Kennedy said in an interview with KOMO-TV on Monday.
When he was asked why he wanted to return to a place where he was unwelcome at some point in time, Kennedy replied, “Yeah, that’s a tough one. A lot of it has to do with the principle of it. I stood up and fought to be a knight, and that meant everything to me.”
Kennedy’s story has gained national attention on social media over the years, and his fight for religious freedom has inspired many. With this legal victory, Kennedy can finally put this chapter behind him and focus on his passion for coaching.
Pleased to join an amicus brief to the SCOTUS in support of Coach Joe Kennedy, a WA high school football coach who lost his job for kneeling & praying on the field. This attack on every American’s 1st Amendment right to practice their faith is disgraceful & should be struck down. pic.twitter.com/7NAw9fjcMi
— Senator Bill Hagerty (@SenatorHagerty) March 5, 2022