Five years ago, Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy was first suspended, then fired – for kneeling and silently praying on his school’s football field.
On March 5, U.S. District Court Judge Ronal Leighton dismissed his lawsuit against the Bremerton School District, in Kitsap County, Washington. Leighton wrote that the court was “sympathetic to Kennedy’s desire to follow his beliefs” but that those beliefs “must give way” to the prohibition on the government favoring a religion.
Kennedy’s lawyer, Mike Berry, said they will appeal the case to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second time around for Coach Kennedy.
Berry is General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that works to defend religious liberty in America. First Liberty took Kennedy’s lawsuit against the Bremerton School District all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. Four Justices wrote a six-page statement about the case, expressing interest but stating that they needed facts cleared up before the Court could review the suit, sending it back to the trial court.
First Liberty says that Coach Kennedy made a made a commitment to God, back in 2008 when he was first hired, “that he would give thanks after every game – win or lose – for the opportunity to be a football coach and for his players.” Kennedy would drop down on one knee on the fifty-yard line, after the players came off the field, and offer a short prayer.
Seven years later, the school district said Kennedy must stop expressing his religious and free speech rights. Then they suspended him, “the day before the final varsity football game of the season and refused to renew his contract, resulting in the termination of his coaching career.” Kennedy had been head coach for the school’s junior varsity football team and a varsity assistant coach.
First Liberty explains that “teachers and administrators do not lose their private rights to express their religious beliefs upon entering the schoolhouse – or the football field.”
In a press release about this recent decision, Berry says that Kennedy has the determination to keep fighting for those rights: “Joe has fought – first as a U.S. Marine, then as a coach—to prove that every American has the right to engage in individual religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired. He knows this fight isn’t over.”
We’ll see if the Ninth Circuit rules in favor of Kennedy’s religious freedom or if the case will be appealed, once again, to the Supreme Court.
Photo from First Liberty Institute