Coach Fired For Praying At Football Game Reinstated To Old Role, Gets Nearly $2 Million Settlement

Coach Fired For Praying At Football Game Reinstated To Old Role, Gets Nearly $2 Million Settlement

Joseph Kennedy, a high school assistant football coach fired eight years ago for praying on the field with students, returned to his old position and will receive a $1.78 million settlement.

Board members of the Bremerton School District in Washington voted last week to approve the settlement, which will cover attorney fees incurred by Kennedy in the landmark legal battle that reached the Supreme Court last year. Justices ruled that the public high school violated the First Amendment by placing Kennedy on administrative leave in response to his prayer.

Kennedy, a veteran of the Marine Corps, started a tradition of kneeling and praying after football games after he was employed by the school district in 2008. Some students later volunteered to join their coach; a school administrator raised the issue with Kennedy in 2015 after an opposing team complained, leading to Kennedy’s placement on administrative leave.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”

Bremerton School District vowed to comply with the Supreme Court decision but said in a statement that officials “offered repeatedly” to accommodate Kennedy’s desire to pray “as long as he was not delivering prayers to students or coercing students to join him.” Board members added that they “look forward to moving past the distraction” of the legal battle.

Kennedy was reinstated to his position last week; court documents said that Bremerton School District “shall not interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from offering a prayer” consistent with the decision from the Supreme Court and cannot “retaliate against or take any future adverse employment action against Kennedy” for conduct in alignment with the order.

The affirmation from the Supreme Court last summer was the latest of several favorable rulings for religious liberty in the United States in recent years. Justices issued another landmark opinion in the fall of 2020 in response to a lawsuit filed by Roman Catholic and Jewish organizations in New York challenging restrictive public health mandates with limited religious services.


“Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis. At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available,” Gorsuch wrote. “It is time, past time, to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques.”

Officials in California agreed after another Supreme Court opinion to settle lawsuits from Grace Community Church for a combined $800,000. “We know that there is no circumstance that can cause the church to close,” Pastor John MacArthur said in a letter to the authorities. “The church is not only a building but is the bride of Christ and exists to proclaim the truth.”

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[By: Ben Zeisloft

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