Coach Joe Kennedy’s legal battle with the Bremerton School District began in 2015. The district claimed that his prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But the high court ruled that Bremerton School District actually violated Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights.
As CBN News reported, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 last June that the public school district violated the coach’s free speech and free exercise rights when it barred him from praying on the field after games.” Then a U.S. district judge issued an order in November instructing the Bremerton School District to reinstate him before March 15, 2023.
The order enjoined the school district to reinstate Kennedy to “his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023.”
The court’s order also said, “Bremerton School District shall not interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from kneeling at midfield to engage in a brief, quiet, personal religious ritual during the period after a football game in which the coaching staff are free to attend to personal matters.”
In addition, the court also noted, “Bremerton School District cannot retaliate against or take any future adverse employment action against Kennedy for conduct that complies with the terms of this order.”
Kennedy was reinstated to his former position on March 8, according to MyNorthwest.
Coach Kennedy was represented in his legal fight by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization that protects religious freedom, based in Plano, Texas.
“We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated,” First Liberty Institute Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser said in a statement.
The Bremerton School District released a statement on the district’s website on March 6.
“Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season. Mr. Kennedy has completed human resources paperwork and we are awaiting the results of his fingerprinting and background check. Mr. Kennedy will need to complete all training required by WIAA. Football coach contracts are approved by the Board at the August 3, 2023 board meeting, and begin in mid-August. As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice and other off-season football activities,” the statement said.
In addition, the district said it has reached an agreement in principle to settle the attorney fees claim in the case for $1,775,000. The agreement must still be formalized, which requires it to be approved by the board of directors in an open public meeting. The agreement will be presented to the board on March 16.
“It’s been a long road,” Kennedy said in an interview with KOMO-TV on Monday.
When asked why he wanted to return to a district where he was unwelcome at one point, Kennedy replied, “Yeah, that’s a tough one. A lot of it has to do with the principle of it. I stood up and fought to be a knight, and that meant everything to me.”
“I have the utmost respect for everybody to be able to speak their mind, and I just hope and pray that everybody in America starts doing that with each other,” the coach said.
Kennedy and his wife currently live in Pensacola, Florida, but expect to be back in Bremerton for spring football this May. He’s just waiting for the schedule to become finalized, according to KOMO.
“Even if it’s just for that season is just to be able to go back and be able to retire on my own terms instead of somebody else’s,” Kennedy told the outlet.
Kennedy also told KOMO he was on a speaking tour. He said his book and movie are scheduled to be released this fall.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, Kennedy told CBN News his faith has sustained him through a long legal battle, now he’s ready to get back on the field.
“My faith has grown so much, not just in God and the closeness of that, but the faith through my family, we’ve become a lot tighter as a family of Christians, and also everybody in the nation. It’s just great to see how God works in these ways,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s case attracted nationwide attention from the media, Hall of Fame coaches and players, and even former President Donald Trump.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court pointed out that teachers and students alike still maintain their freedom of speech, even if they’re working at a state-funded school.
“When it comes to Mr. Kennedy’s free speech claim, our precedents remind us that the First Amendment’s protections extend to ‘teachers and students,’ neither of whom ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,'” the majority opinion stated.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
There was a question in the case of whether Coach Kennedy was praying in his capacity as a government employee or a private citizen. Justice Gorsuch said it was clear that Kennedy’s prayers were private speech, not government speech.