Coach Kennedy officially reinstated at Washington school months after Supreme Court victory

Coach Joe Kennedy at the Bremerton High School football field.
Coach Joe Kennedy at the Bremerton High School football field. | Courtesy of First Liberty Institute

Months after winning at the U.S. Supreme Court, Joe Kennedy, a public high school assistant football coach in Washington state who was dismissed for praying on the field after games, has finally been reinstated.

Coach Kennedy, who the Bremerton School District punished for praying on the field after games in 2015, has been reinstated as a football coach, the legal group First Liberty Institute said in a statement last week. 

"We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated," the group's Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser said.

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As a devout Christian, Kennedy maintained a practice of going to the 50-yard line after games and kneeling in prayer, often with fans and players joining him.

A joint stipulation filed in court last October by attorneys representing Kennedy and Bremerton School District stated that the coach would be reinstated to his former position as an assistant coach by March 15, 2023.

The school district initially suspended Kennedy for refusing to stop praying on the field. The school district believed that his prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Kennedy sued the school district in 2016, accusing it of violating his religious freedom.

In 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Kennedy, and the U.S. Supreme Court initially refused to hear an appeal in the case in 2019.

In March 2021, a three-judge Circuit Court panel again ruled against Kennedy.

In January 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Kennedy's case. A month later, the school district filed a request to dismiss the case by claiming that the case was moot because Kennedy moved to Florida. However, Kennedy's legal team clarified that the coach temporarily relocated to care for a sick family member.

Last June, the justices ruled in Kennedy's favor with a 6-3 decision.

"Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters. He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Still, the Bremerton School District disciplined him anyway," wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority.

"Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy's. ... The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike."

Kennedy responded to his victory, saying that all he wanted "was to be back on the field with my guys."

"I am incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court, my fantastic legal team, and everyone who has supported us," he said in a statement. "I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle."

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