Praying Football Coach Given Nearly $2 Million Settlement After Being Reinstated as Coach


The Bremerton, Washington, school board just got a reason to respect the First Amendment.

Two million reasons, actually. That’s the dollar amount of a settlement with Joe Kennedy, the high school coach who lost his job seven years ago for praying on the football field. Kennedy sued and won — all the way up to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Not only is there a nearly $2 million dollar settlement approved March 6 by the school board, but the court in October 2022, ordered the school district to give him his job back by this month.

And the district has agreed to pay Kennedy’s legal fees of $1.77 million.

Kennedy wins it all — the settlement, the legal fees, his job, and — most importantly — the ability to resume praying on the football field.

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What a country! Except for the fact that all this nonsense began in the first place.

It started in 2008 when Kennedy began coaching at Bremerton High School, KCPQ-TV reported. After each game, the coach, a Christian, would pray by himself on the 50-yard line.

Students began to join him in the prayer and eventually he started giving religiously-themed talks. Students also engaged in locker room prayer.

After years of this, the school district asked Kennedy to stop. So he did, but kept up his 50-yard line end-of-game prayers.

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The school administration, knowing students wouldn’t cover their eyes but would see a man of God approaching his Creator, feared a lawsuit over restricting the religious freedom of the students.

Not seeing the irony, the school told Kennedy he did not have the freedom to kneel and pray on the football field when he was “on duty.” Kennedy’s response was to ignore the order and to keep praying.

The school district put him on paid leave.

So, like the apostle Paul appealing to Caesar, Kennedy took the matter to court. And he won, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2022 that the coach could continue his on-field prayers.

Not surprisingly, the 6-3 vote essentially followed party lines, with Republican-appointed justices in the majority and Democratic-appointed justices dissenting, The Seattle Times reported.

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Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority said: “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

The prayers were not heard by the public, students were not required to participate, and since Kennedy prayed at the game’s end, his students “were otherwise occupied,” Gorsuch wrote.

Dissenting, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the Constitution does not require nor authorize officials of a school to pray “at the center of a school event.”

“Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections
for the religious liberty of students and their parents,” she said.

The ruling in favor of Kennedy, according to Sotomayor “elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state.”

Sotomayor apparently attempted to buttress the minority’s weak argument by including a picture of Kennedy, helmet raised, surrounded by dozens of kneeling players praying.

The horror!

It all reminds me of what they’ve said at the Flying W Ranch, a long-standing Colorado Springs, Colorado, attraction that features a big chuck wagon dinner and cowboy music.

Before a Flying W dinner, a man takes a mic and announces: “Before we eat, we always pray. Now if you don’t pray, that’s okay.

“It won’t hurt you none.”

I’m confident Kennedy, returning to Bremerton High School as an assistant coach, will resume his mid-field praying. No matter what Supreme Court dissenters say, his prayers will not harm the students.

In this day and age, it will greatly benefit them. And I think a lot of them know that, too.

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Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.
Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.