Bremerton Praying Coach Releases Op-Ed After Supreme Court Win


Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy released an op-ed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that his prayers after games were protected under the First Amendment.

The high court voted 6-3 in Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District, a decision with sweeping implications for the separation of church and state.

"Though I never would've thought I'd end up in front of the Supreme Court, I'm glad I stayed in the fight," Kennedy wrote in a Fox News op-ed posted Monday shortly after the ruling came down.

Kennedy called the legal battle "one of the longest fights of my life."

"I suppose fighting is just a part of who I am," wrote Kennedy, who served in the Marine Corps for nearly two decades and started coaching at the school in 2008. "Every American deserves someone to fight for them, for their freedom, and I was proud to do so."

Kennedy initially prayed alone on the field at the end of games but was soon joined by students and players. He began delivering short talks with religious references.

When the district learned of his prayers and talks and asked him to stop, he initially said he would comply and stopped leading students prayer in the locker room and on the field. But he wanted to continue praying on the field himself, with students free to join if they wished.

Kennedy was placed on administrative leave in 2015. When his season-to-season contract expired, it was not renewed.

"When I went to the center of the football field for what turned out to be the last time on October 26, 2015, I remembered the day eight years earlier that I committed to God that I would give him thanks at the 50-yard line after every game I coached, win or lose. For the last 2,436 days since I walked off that field — because the school district fired me for my prayers — I've been fighting to get back to my guys," he wrote.

A question that at times would "haunt" him, he wrote, was "What if I lose?"

He added that his wife and kids bore the "'brunt" of the case, with his kids still attending the school where he coached and his wife working as the school district's director of human resources.

"Not everyone has agreed with my fight in this case. That's ok. The American ideal of freedom is strong enough for us to disagree and still love each other as Americans. But we should all agree that no one should be fired from their job just because someone can be seen engaged in a private prayer," Kennedy wrote.

The Bremerton School District, in a prepared statement, said it would work with its attorneys to make sure it "remains a welcoming, inclusive environment for all students, their families and our staff.

"When we learned that a district employee was leading students in prayer, we followed the law and acted to protect the religious freedom of all students and their families," the district said. "We look forward to moving past the distraction of this 7-year legal battle so that our school community can focus on what matters most: providing our children the best education possible."