Coach Kennedy to be reinstated at Washington school after Supreme Court prayer ruling

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

After winning at the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, Washington state public high school assistant football coach Joe Kennedy will be reinstated after being dismissed in 2015 for praying on the field after games. 

A joint stipulation filed in court on Tuesday by attorneys representing Kennedy and Bremerton School District states that the coach will be reinstated to his former position as an assistant coach by March 15, 2023.

Jeremy Dys of the First Liberty Institute, a legal nonprofit that helped to represent Kennedy during his yearslong legal battle, confirmed the reinstatement to ABC News on Wednesday. Dys noted that Kennedy will move back to Washington from his current residence in Florida.

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.

In 2015, the school district 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. 

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

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

In March of last year, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel again ruled against Kennedy, with Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. authoring the unanimous opinion.

"[T]here is no doubt that an objective observer, familiar with the history of Kennedy's practice, would view his demonstrations as BSD's endorsement of a particular faith. For that reason, BSD had adequate justification for its treatment of Kennedy," wrote Smith.

"BSD had a compelling state interest to avoid violating the Establishment Clause, and it tried repeatedly to work with Kennedy to develop an accommodation for him that would avoid violating the Establishment Clause while nevertheless offering him options that were narrowly tailored to protect his rights."

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up Kennedy's case and heard oral arguments in late April. The school district filed a request to dismiss the case in February 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. 

In late 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."

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