In 2015, a high school football coach in Washington was placed on administrative leave for praying on the field at the end of games. The coach later filed a lawsuit against the school district and is now set to collect a $1.8 million settlement.

Joe Kennedy was an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington. After games, he would pray by himself on the 50-yard line. After a while, students began to join Kennedy in post-game prayer and he would give them inspirational talks that referenced God and religion.

After learning about Kennedy and his team’s spiritual gatherings, the school district asked him to stop, arguing that by involving students he was violating the Constituion’s prohibition on government officials promoting a religion. When Kennedy refused to stop publically practicing his religion, the school district placed him on administrative leave.

Kennedy did not return to his position on the team the following season, and later sued the school district on the grounds that they had violated his First Amendment right.

Joe Kennedy

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After making its way to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of Kennedy in June 2022. A federal court in Washington also ruled that he would have to be reinstated by the school as a coach for the 2023 football season.

Jeremy Dys, a senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, the non-profit Christian legal organization that represented Kennedy, did not seem surprised that the federal court made this ruling.

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“After the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Coach Kennedy praying by himself at the 50-yard-line after games he coached was entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution, his return to the field was inevitable,” said Dys.

On March 16, the Bremerton School District unanimously voted in favor of a $1.8 million settlement to cover Kennedy’s legal fees. The following day, the Bremerton school board announced that Kennedy would be returning as the assistant football coach for the 2023 season.

“We look forward to moving past the distraction of this nearly 8-year legal battle so that our school community can focus on what matters most: providing our children the best education possible,” said Alyson Rotter, the president of the school board.

Rotter added that the district “will fully comply with the court’s order to treat Mr. Kennedy’s personal religious conduct the same way the district treats all other personal conduct by coaches at football games.”

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