Washington high school football coach who has come under fire for
praying at midfield at the conclusion of his team's games has now been
suspended by the school district.
Coach Joe Kennedy has been
placed on paid administrative leave by officials in the Bremerton School
District in suburban Seattle.
Kennedy had been instructed by the
school district superintendent to put an end to his longtime practice
of taking a knee for prayer at the 50 yard-line after high school
Kennedy decided to defend his constitutional
rights to the free exercise of religion, and to continue to thank God
for his players and their safety after the final play of each game.
he has received a letter from Superintendent Aaron Leavell informing
him that he may not participate in any capacity in the program
activities of the high school football team.
"You violated [my]
directives by engaging in overt, public and demonstrative religious
conduct while still on duty as an assistant football coach."
public statement, the district said that Kennedy's conduct put the
district at risk of violating "the federal and state constitutional
rights of students and others." The statement did not explain what
those rights are or how they would be violated.
previous directive had made clear that Coach Kennedy could only offer
prayers in a private area where he could not be seen by players,
students, parents, or patrons of the district.
Kennedy has now
been banished to the bleachers, and he says it is "one of the hardest
things I have done." "I'm used to being beside the players,
listening to them. It's tough when my guys are in the locker
room and I've got to be out here."
Following last Friday's game,
several of the players walked over the stands to give Kennedy a
hug. Kennedy joined in prayer with surrounding fans in the stands.
mid-field prayers have generally been brief and not an occasion for
proselytizing. For example: "Lord, I thank you for these
kids and the blessing you've given me with them. We believe in the
game, we believe in competition, and we can come into the game as
rivals and leave as brothers."
Kennedy will be filing a complaint
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an attempt to
preserve his First Amendment rights. He will be asserting
that the high school is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by
failing to accommodate his religious convictions.
"I'm willing to
take this as far as it goes to defend the rights of our
Constitution," Kennedy has said. "If you believe in
something, you stand up for it."
Members of the Congressional
Prayer Caucus have sent a joint letter to officials in the Bremerton
School District deploring their actions.
"Members of Congress
have a longstanding tradition of opening legislative sessions with
prayer...and Coach Kennedy should have the same freedom to pray after
his team's game," the letter concluded.
Coach Kennedy says he has
always had one central goal as an assistant coach for the football
team. "We are building our kids up and sending the right message
about what the sport is really about, which is making better men out of
If you not already done so, you can send a message of support to Coach Kennedy by using this link:Support Coach Kennedy