An assistant high school football coach spent eight years fighting for his job after being fired for making a spectacle of praying on the field at the end of every football game. He got his job back, but now he doesn’t think he wants it. Here’s the full story.
Controversy Over Prayer
Joe Kennedy was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington.
The school district let him go from his position after causing controversy for praying at the end of each game.
Separation of Church and State
Kennedy was not engaged in private prayer, as he has often disingenuously claimed.
In fact, his public prayers were conducted in a way that nonreligious students felt pressured to join in, under the credible assumption that students who joined the his prayer circles would be shown favoritism while others would be comparatively ignored.
School officials were concerned that allowing Kennedy to pray in this manner after football games would “suggest government endorsement of religion,” a clear violation of the separation of church and state.
Kennedy fought for his job for seven years and was finally rehired after the United States Supreme Court ruled that Kennedy’s post-game prayers were protected by the Constitution, a ruling that has been decried by legal experts for contravening clearly established precedent and weakening the separation of church and state.
Free Expression of Religion
Kennedy was arguing that praying was private speech protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and expression of religion.
Supreme Court Rules
Kennedy lost several court cases before he was able to reach the Supreme Court level.
Justice Neil Gorsuch presided over the case and wrote, “The best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
The Coach Can’t Coerce Anyone to Pray With Him
The court ruled that Kennedy’s prayers were protected “provided the coach didn’t coerce anyone to participate.”
Not Sure He Wants the Job
Before returning to the sidelines for a Friday night football game, Kennedy was nervous and said he had “angst in [his] stomach.”
He was no longer sure he wanted the job he fought so hard for.
The Coach Was Nervous to Return to the Field
Kennedy planned to continue with his post-game prayer tradition but was worried that people would “freak out” over him “bringing God back into public schools.”
The thought of kneeling on the field again made him queasy before his first game back on the sidelines.
It Was His “Duty”
After being fired, the assistant high school football coach moved to Florida with his wife but returned to Bremerton because he felt it was his “duty.”
He was staying with a friend in Bremerton so that he could return to the part-time job that paid him “less than $5,000.”
A lot of people want to know “What’s next?” for Kennedy, but he said he has “no idea” if he will stay for the entire season or just a few games.
He acknowledged that “it’s not going to be football forever,” but hadn’t made any final decisions.
Kennedy led the high school players in catching and tackling drills two days before the game.
He wore a sleeveless t-shirt with the word “essential” on the front. The letter t in ‘essential’ resembled a cross.
The Case Was a Distraction to the District
The school district posted a statement on its website saying, “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.”
Go Where You Are Valued
Critics on X, formerly known as Twitter, think Kennedy should “go somewhere where he is valued.”
Nothing Wrong With What He’s Doing
Another person said, “Our country was founded on Christian values,” and “there is nothing wrong with that.”
(The United States was founded with an explicitly non-religious government, as affirmed in the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796. The treaty states in no uncertain terms, “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”)
During the years Kennedy was fighting for his job, he and his wife attended a rally for Donald Trump and recently had dinner with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
At the dinner, DeSantis asked Kennedy for his help on the presidential campaign trail.
Faith Advisory Board Offer
DeSantis also told Kennedy he wanted him to be on his “faith advisory board.” Kennedy said that DeSantis “invited [him] to Iowa” and called to say, “Hey, I really need to know, are you in my camp or not?”
Loyalty to Trump
Kennedy chose to decline the faith advisory board invite from DeSantis saying, “Well, I’m sorry. My loyalty is to Trump.”
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