- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The high school football coach who successfully took his religious liberty fight to the Supreme Court after he lost his job for praying on the 50-yard line is back on the field after fighting seven years to win his job back.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that Bremerton School District had violated Coach Joseph Kennedy’s First Amendment rights.

“We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated,” said Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute, which represented Coach Kennedy.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 for the public high school coach, who was put on leave after he prayed. The court’s conservative majority said in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that the government can’t punish someone for personal, private religious expression.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said Mr. Kennedy, who coached at a school in Bremerton, proved his postgame prayer was private and no students were forced to join him.

The school district had ousted him, saying his role as an employee and the public setting drifted too far into state sponsorship of religion, making some students and parents uncomfortable.

Justice Gorsuch said that wasn’t a good enough reason to trample Mr. Kennedy‘s First Amendment rights.

“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” he wrote for the majority.

The district said in a statement to The Washington Times that it’ll potentially be paying $1,775,000 in legal fees over the court battle. That amount is set to be reviewed at a public meeting this month.

A spokesperson for the district confirmed that Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant coach for the 2023 season, and is undergoing employee paperwork, background checks and training. 

Football coach contracts are approved by the Board at the August 3 board meeting, and begin in mid-August. As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice and other off-season football activities,” the spokesperson said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report. 

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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