In 2015, Joe Kennedy, an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington, found himself caught up in a passionate dispute that would ultimately land in the hands of the Supreme Court. Kennedy was known for his post-game tradition of praying alone at the 50-yard line.
Over time, his solo prayers garnered attention from students who began to join him, participating in prayers and listening to motivational talks that incorporated themes of God and faith.
Upon discovering these religious gatherings, the school district requested that Kennedy put an end to them, arguing that engaging students in religious activities violated the Constitution’s prohibition against government officials promoting a religion. However, Kennedy remained steadfast in his convictions, leading the school district to place him on administrative leave.
Instead of resuming his position the following season, Kennedy opted to sue the school district, claiming that they had infringed on his First Amendment rights. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Kennedy in June 2022. Additionally, a federal court in Washington instructed the school to reinstate him 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 express surprise at the federal court’s ruling. He said, “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.”
On March 16, the Bremerton School District voted unanimously to grant Kennedy a $1.8 million settlement to cover his legal fees. The following day, the Bremerton school board announced that Kennedy would return as the assistant football coach for the 2023 season.
Alyson Rotter, the school board president, voiced her eagerness to move on from the nearly eight-year legal saga. She said, “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.”
Rotter also noted 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.”
This captivating story of a coach’s unwavering commitment to his faith and his battle to exercise his First Amendment rights underscores the complexities that can emerge when religion intersects with public institutions. As Joe Kennedy makes his return to the field in 2023, the resolution of this prolonged legal struggle will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on both the school community and the broader discourse surrounding religious freedom.
WATCH the video below for more details: