Football coach Joe Kennedy of Bremerton High School in Washington State, who was ordered by the school district to stop leading team prayers, carried on with his seven-year-old tradition after a game Friday night, risking being fired but joined by his team, players from the rival team and supporters.
"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 it as rivals and leave as brothers," Kennedy prayed after his school's game with Centralia High School in Kitsap County.
"I always taught my kids to do what's right … and fight for what you believe in," The Seattle Times quoted him as saying.
"It's really incredible to see the … entire team coming out there and joining us," Kennedy, who says a personal prayer at the 50-yard line after every game, told Fox News. "And then it spread from there to the other teams ... and now everybody in the league. We've had the opposing team, it doesn't matter if it's a home or away game, they have joined us out on the 50 [yard line] for the whole thing."
Kennedy, who actively served in the Marines for 20 years, explained that he "kind of made an agreement with my personal faith and with God that this was something that I was going to do, and I was going to give him the glory after every single game, and do it on the 50."
"I'm kind of a guy of my word, and I'm just going to go through with what I've always done," the coach added. "I really don't believe I'll be fired for what I'm going to do. You know, I have a higher power that I answer to."
In September, the superintendent of Kennedy's school sent an official letter from the school district, demanding the cessation of his prayers. Earlier this week, Liberty Institute, on behalf of the Christian coach, sent the school district a demand letter.
"No reasonable observer could conclude that a football coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the field and then walks to mid-field to say a short, private, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state," the letter said. "Quite the opposite, Coach Kennedy is engaged in private religious expression upon which the state may not infringe. In fact, any attempt by Bremerton School District to ban or prohibit Coach Kennedy — or any private citizen — from praying violates the First Amendment."
School District's lawyers said they largely agree with the letter's analysis, but cited their concern about "potential liability," saying any perceived violations of their policy "cannot be tolerated."
Liberty Institute's Deputy General Counsel Hiram Sasser responded to the school district's lawyers by saying, "If the school is concerned that the coach's prayer may be interpreted as government speech, there is an easy solution: the school district can simply say that the coach's prayer is his own speech. Then they should stand back and let him pray… He is legally entitled to [pray] … by the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
"I'm being investigated for thanking God for the opportunities that have been given me," Kennedy was quoted as saying earlier. "It's absolutely ridiculous."