Bremerton

Praying coach files religious discrimination charge against Bremerton School District

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Bremerton Football Coach Joe Kennedy today filed a charge of religious discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the Bremerton School District.

The charge was announced in a press release from the Liberty Instiute, a national nonprofit law firm which is representing Kennedy.

The Liberty Institute announced the charge in a press release. The documents filed are embedded below this story as a PDF document.

The district suspended Kennedy on Oct. 28 for silently praying alone at the fifty-yard line after high school football games, according to the release.

In the charge, Kennedy says the school district “violated my rights to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting my private religious expression.”

Filing an EEOC complaint is the last step Kennedy must take before filing a lawsuit against the school district, the release states.

“All we are asking is for Coach Kennedy to be allowed to pray alone — silently and briefly — at the fifty-yard line after the game,” said Mike Berry, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute, in the release.

Rebekah Ricketts, attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says, “We hope the EEOC takes this charge of religious discrimination seriously,” said Rebekah Ricketts, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher — one of the other firms representing Kennedy. “We fully expect that Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights will be vindicated.”

“When I took civics at Bremerton High School, I learned about freedom of speech and freedom of conscience,” said Attorney Anthony J. Ferate. “Now the school district is denying Coach Kennedy the very things I was taught to cherish. I hope the district will do the right thing, rescind its stand, and respect Coach Kennedy’s right to pray.”

Here is the case background as presented in the Liberty Institute’s press release:

Coach Joe Kennedy is head coach for the Bremerton High School junior varsity football team and an assistant coach for the varsity team. After his first football game in 2008, Coach Kennedy waited until the game had ended, then he walked alone to the fifty-yard line, took a knee, and thanked God for his players in a brief, quiet prayer. He continued this practice after subsequent games.

Coach Kennedy has prayed after football games for the last seven years. Bremerton School District admits Coach Kennedy did not encourage students to participate in his prayers—and no students, coaches, or parents ever complained. Nevertheless, in September 2015, the Bremerton School District sent Coach Kennedy a letter, ordering him to stop praying with players after the game. The school district later denied Coach Kennedy’s request for a religious accommodation and announced that Coach Kennedy was prohibited from engaging in any visible religious expression while on duty.

After Liberty Institute advised the school that Coach Kennedy’s prayers are constitutionally protected, Coach Kennedy continued to kneel at midfield and offer a brief, silent prayer by himself after football games, in compliance with Bremerton School District’s September letter.  Bremerton School District responded that even praying silently by himself on the field is a violation of school district policy and eventually suspended Coach Kennedy the day before the last game of the season.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Liberty Institute

The Kitsap Scene is an online news magazine covering everything in Kitsap County.

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