It’s called faith for a reason. People who have it generally don’t abandon it at the first sign of adversity.
Or the second. Or third. Or ever, really.
Which is why Joe Kennedy — the former Bremerton (Wash.) High assistant football coach who was let go after insisting on hosting postgame prayer sessions at the 50-yard line — won’t go quietly into the night.
Kennedy filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, charging the Bremerton School District with religious discrimination, according to a press release issued by the First Liberty Institute, the non-profit law firm that represents the coach and “dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans.”
Kennedy’s lawyers will argue the school district violated his First Amendment rights to free speech as well as his right to freely practice religion under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when they placed him on paid administrative leave in 2015 and opted not to renew his contract for this coming fall. Conversely, the school district will most likely contend Kennedy’s postgame sessions constituted school-sponsored prayer, which would also violate the First Amendment based on a 1962 Supreme Court ruling. This is the debate.
“Citizens who work for government are not banned from praying. That’s not the law. That’s religious hostility and discrimination,” First Liberty Institute senior counsel Mike Berry argued in the press release. “All we are asking is for Coach Kennedy to be reinstated and for the school to allow him to continue to pray alone at the 50-yard line after the game.”
Indeed, Kennedy is not seeking a monetary reward in the lawsuit, but instead just wants his old job back.
“When the school district fired me, I was devastated,” Kennedy said in the release. “I really hope that the school district will give me my job back so I can get back to doing what I love most: coaching my players.”
Kennedy first came under fire in September 2015, when his postgame prayer sessions with student-athletes, fellow coaches and community members became a hot-button issue, first in the Seattle suburb and then nationally. He conformed to the school district’s request to stop leading prayers, instead waiting until he was alone in the stadium before bowing his head in prayer at the 50-yard line. That lasted a week, before the First Liberty Institute demanded the school district’s request be rescinded, Kennedy threatened a lawsuit if he was fired and announced his plans to resume postgame prayers. He was then placed on administrative leave.
In April, Bremerton hired Paul Theriault as its new head football coach, and by then Kennedy’s tenure as an assistant since 2008 seemed left for dead. Months earlier, though, Kennedy had filed a religious discrimination charge against the school district with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in June he was issued a right-to-sue letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the press release.
So, as Bremerton seeks its first winning season since 2012, nobody should be surprised Kennedy is keeping the faith that he’ll be leading a postgame prayer session when the Knights host their season opener on Sept. 2.