One Washington-based football coach, who also is a Marine Corps veteran, said he made a commitment to God he would give thanks after every game-win or lose-for the opportunity to be a football coach and for his players. That practice cost him his job, but the legal fight regarding religious rights has just begun.
When Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy was suspended last year for silently praying after football games, he said his seven-year practice of praying at the 50-yard line after every game was his right to free religious expression. He then was fired on Oct. 28, 2015. On Tuesday, First Liberty Institute and Kennedy's private attorneys filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of the religious athletic leader.
In the lawsuit, Kennedy's attorneys asserted that "Bremerton School District's actions violate Coach Kennedy's First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise, as well as his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion."
Kennedy declined to seek monetary damages and instead requested to be reinstated so he can continue coaching.
"When the school district fired me, I was devastated," Kennedy said. "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 is legally represented by the national non-profit law firm First Liberty Institute, as well as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Oldfield & Helsdon, PLLC, and attorney Anthony Ferate.
"Citizens who work for government are not banned from praying. That's not the law. That's religious hostility and discrimination," Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute senior counsel said about Kennedy's circumstances.
"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."
"The First Amendment guarantees Coach Kennedy's rights to free speech and free exercise of his religion. We fully expect those constitutional rights to be vindicated when Coach Kennedy gets his day in court," said Rebekah Ricketts, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorney.
"As a student at Bremerton High School, I was taught the importance of Constitutional Rights; the school district, by act, has specifically devalued Coach Kennedy's," attorney and Bremerton High School alumni Anthony Ferate added.
"It's time for Coach to be allowed to get back to serving as a positive role model to students in Bremerton."
Kennedy filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Bremerton School District in December. On June 27, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a right-to-sue letter to the coach.