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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

High school football coach at center of Supreme Court prayer case resigns after first game back

Washington — The Washington state high school football coach who was at the center of a Supreme Court dispute over his postgame prayers has resigned his position, days after he returned to coach his first game since his victory before the high court.

Joseph Kennedy, an assistant coach for the Bremerton High School varsity football team, announced his resignation, which is effective immediately, in a statementposted to his website. He said he provided multiple reasons for his decision to step down, including taking care of a sick family member in Florida, where Kennedy and his family relocated.

“As I have demonstrated, we must make a stand for what we believe in. In my case, I made a stand to take a knee,” he said. “I encourage all Americans to make their own stand for freedom and our right to express our faith as we see fit. I appreciate the people of Bremerton, the coaches, staff and especially the students and wish them all well. Bremerton will always be home.”

In Kennedy’s resignation letter, which was distributed by the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal organization that represented him, the former coach expressed gratitude for Bremerton High School’s coaches, players and parents, but wrote it is “in everyone’s best interest I step back from coaching.”

“Taking the field again and offering a prayer is all I wanted. I take pride in persisting until that goal was accomplished,” he wrote. “However, it is apparent that the reinstatement ordered by the Supreme Court will not be fully followed after a series of actions meant to diminish my role and single me out in what I can only believe is retaliation by the school district. Therefore, I am tendering my immediate resignation.”

The Bremerton School District confirmed it received Kennedy’s resignation, which is pending approval by the school board at a meeting Thursday. The district said it will not be issuing any additional statements, as it “does not comment on personnel matters.”

Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel of First Liberty Institute, said in a statement that his “family health situation is very serious and he and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Sasser said in a later statement that the organization learned of “serious allegations of retaliation against” Kennedy by the Bremerton School District, which he said has “done everything they can to make him feel unwelcome. We are going to investigate the situation to determine whether further legal action is necessary.”

Kennedy began praying after Bremerton High School football games in 2008 and continued the practice until 2015, when the school district learned of his postgame prayers. He was eventually placed on administrative leave by the district for violating directives related to his prayers at midfield, and Kennedy opted not to reapply for his coaching position.

He filed a lawsuit in August 2016, arguing the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights, and lost in the lower courts. But the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kennedy in June 2022, finding the First Amendment protected his personal religious observance from government reprisal.

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

Kennedy was reinstated as assistant coach in March following the conclusion of his years-long court fight, and returned to the football field Friday for his first game back. After the game ended, he walked alone to the center of the field and took a knee to pray.

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