Prep football coach could lose job over postgame prayer

October 15, 2015 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
A high school football coach in Washington could end up losing his job if he continues ignoring district rules that prevent prayer at sporting events.

Bremerton High School (Wash.)
Bremerton High School (Wash.)

Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy has already been told to discontinue his postgame ritual, but he intends to go through with it anyways Friday after the school’s homecoming game. He said his prayers are not mandatory and he’s often joined by members of both teams. He started the tradition in 2008, according to The Seattle Times.

Kennedy’s lawyers, who come courtesy of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, said they plan to sue the school district if the coach is fired. The institute claims it’s protecting Kennedy’s First Amendment right to religious freedom.

From The Seattle Times:

On Sept. 17, District Superintendent Aaron Leavell wrote Kennedy that the practice has to stop.

Leavell said that while the district has concluded that his actions were “entirely well-intentioned,” it has also determined that they are in violation of district policies and the law and are “exposing the district to significant risk of liability.”

Kennedy, who describes himself as a God-fearing former Marine, said he believes he is “helping these kids be better people.” He says he not a lawyer and “I don’t know the Constitution.”

However, he said, “I spent my years defending it.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student-led prayer at football games is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, and public school districts have widely used that decision to regulate prayer at all school-sanctioned events.

Despite that ruling, prayer at public school events continues to be debated. Legislators in Oklahoma vowed to fight the state’s athletic association on its ban of prayer at games, and a Georgia school was sued by the American Humanist Association after it was found to have violated the decision. The school and the association settled out of court.

Coach and Athletic Director recently surveyed readers asking whether prayer should be allowed at public school events, and 73% agreed it should be.

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