Coach Joe Kennedy, who had been warned not to pray on the football field, continued to pray at Bremerton High School in Washington State. Superintendent Aaron Leavell placed the longtime coach on administrative leave after he refused to stop his post-game prayers, according to Fox News on Wednesday. Kennedy is a devout Christian and had been under investigation since September after someone complained about his post-game prayers at the 50-yard-line.
Kennedy has vocally prayed before and after games since 2008, but it was only recently brought to the attention of the school district, and he was asked to stop praying on Sept. 17. He was also ordered to avoid kneeling, bowing his head or doing anything that could remotely be seen as religious.
Kennedy initially agreed to follow the district’s order, but he resumed praying after he received support from the Texas-based Liberty Institute. Kennedy continued to pray for 15 to 20 seconds after shaking hands with the opposing coaches. His lawyers insist he is not leading students in prayer, just praying himself.
Not only has the coach received support from the religious-freedom organization, but Kennedy has also received support from dozens of lawmakers in the Congressional Prayer Caucus. The district will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others.
Kennedy’s lawyer, Hiram Sasser, called the leave a hostile employment action. He indicated that he plans to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the coach. Kennedy thanked his supporters on his Facebook page.
CBS News reported that Kennedy is still employed and will be paid through the remainder of his contract term unless his status changes. He won’t be allowed to participate in any activities related to the football program, although the district said he can attend games as a member of the public.
The decision to put Kennedy on leave came the same day the Satanic Temple was set to attend a football game to protest against Kennedy praying on the football field. The 42-member group had been invited by the senior class president, Abe Bartlett. The 17-year-old student, who is also a Christian, said the group was invited in an effort to get the school district to give equal time for others to display their religious beliefs. The self-proclaimed Satanist group requested permission to perform an invocation on the field after the game.