Washington high school football coach fired over prayers to be reinstated: court docs


A Washington high school football coach who was fired by the district over postgame prayers must be reinstated to his old job by March 2023, court documents filed Tuesday say.

Joe Kennedy, a former football coach at Bremerton High School, was put on leave in 2015 for reciting prayers at midfield following games. 

Kennedy had begun reciting a post-game prayer by himself, but eventually, students started joining him. According to court documents, this evolved into motivational speeches that included religious themes. After an opposing coach brought it to the principal’s attention, the school district told Kennedy to stop. He did, temporarily, then notified the school that he would resume the practice.

The situation garnered media attention, and when Kennedy announced that he would go back to praying on the field, it raised security concerns. When he did pray after the game, a number of people stormed the field in support.

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The school district offered to let Kennedy pray in other locations before and after games, or for him to pray on the 50-yard line after everyone else had left the premises, but he refused, insisting that he would continue his regular practice. After continuing the prayers at two more games, the school district placed Kennedy on leave.

The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where in June it ruled in favor of Kennedy getting his old job back. In August, the justices said Kennedy’s postgame prayers on the field were protected under the First Amendment.

Per the court documents filed Tuesday, Kennedy must be reinstated to his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023. The Bremerton School District cannot retaliate against Kennedy for “conduct that complies with the terms of the Court’s Order,” the court documents say.

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The district also cannot interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from offering a prayer consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion. 

Kennedy is also entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs, but the district has said those fees will ultimately be decided by the U.S. District Court after an “exacting process.” 

“At this point, the School District has not received any documentation for any amount of attorney fees,” the district said in a statement on Tuesday. “The extent of insurance coverage for a potential attorney fees judgement is the subject of continuing discussions between the School District and its insurers.” 

Kennedy and the district will file a joint submission on Nov. 8 detailing either side’s proposed wording on the disputed issues and relief issued to Kennedy. 

A high school football coach who was placed on leave for holding postgame prayers midfield must be reinstated to his old job by March 2023, court documents say.

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