October 2023 Church & State Magazine - October 2023

Wash. football coach who sued over prayers quits after attending one game


A public high school football coach in Bremerton, Wash., who sued over the right to pray on the 50-yard-line after games quit after the first game this season.

Kennedy: Didn’t really want the coaching job after all (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Joe Kennedy sued the Bremerton School District with the backing of a Christian Nationalist legal group. Americans United defended the district before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Kennedy’s prayer practices were coercive for students. The high court ruled in Kennedy’s favor in June of 2022. He failed to show up for the fall 2022 football season but agreed to return for the 2023 season.

During the litigation in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, Kennedy moved to Florida. AU argued that this should have made the case moot, but Kennedy insisted he would return to Bremerton if he won his case. He did, but attended one game only, on Sept. 1. A few days after the game, Kennedy informed the district in writing that he was resigning. 

A book and movie about Kennedy’s case are being planned.  

Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement:

“That Kennedy doesn’t want to coach at Bremerton School District isn’t a surprise; it’s just one more example of why the Supreme Court should not have taken this case in the first place. The Ninth Circuit judge who called out Kennedy’s attorneys for the ‘deceitful narrative’ they presented in this case was barely scratching the surface. All along, a shadow network of religious extremists was using this case to advance a Christian Nationalist agenda to infuse Christianity into our public schools. They cared little about true religious freedom for students, families and employees at Bremerton or any other public school.

“In February 2022, Americans United told the Supreme Court this case should be dismissed as moot because Kennedy no longer lived in Bremerton and so had no intention of resuming his coaching job. Kennedy and his attorneys failed to notify the Court of his decisive, 3,000-mile move from Washington to Florida, which should have ended the case. Only after AU pointed out that there was no longer a viable case to decide did Kennedy’s attorneys argue that Kennedy was ‘ready, willing, and able to move back to Bremerton as soon as humanly possible should he … be permitted to resume his coaching duties.’ He was neither ready, willing nor able. After the Supreme Court’s decision last summer, Kennedy and his attorneys claimed he’d be on the ‘first flight’ back to resume his coaching job, but he was a no-show in August 2022 when the district offered to rehire him in time for the 2022 football season. For years, Kennedy and his lawyers have said all he wanted was his job back. We were skeptical. And now here we are, right where we warned the Supreme Court we would be.

“First Liberty was able to generate yet another media spectacle around Kennedy’s fabricated ‘return’ to coaching — just in time to promote the release of his new book and forthcoming movie. The Bremerton School District has gone above and beyond to respect employees’ religious freedom while also protecting students’ religious freedom and the community’s safety and right to enjoy school-sponsored events. With the end of this 8-year legal battle in sight, we hope First Liberty will finally allow the district to fully concentrate on its priority: providing children the best education possible.”

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