Bremerton football coach Joe Kennedy knelt on the center of the field and prayed as his players left the field after the Homecoming game on Friday, October 16, despite being told not to.
The Bremerton school district had issued a strict letter to Kennedy hours before the game, warning him not to pray after the game.
“Strict adherence is required and expected, and violations cannot be tolerated,” the school’s district attorney Jeffrey Ganson wrote in a letter to Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser, who is representing Kennedy, according to Fox News.
Coach Kennedy has been walking to mid-field after each game for years to kneel and pray. He said he was first inspired after watching the Christian film Facing the Giants. In September, the school opened an investigation to determine if Kennedy’s prayers violated the constitution. Superintendent Aaron Leavell said Kennedy’s long-standing practice violates the Constitutional mandate for separation of church and state
— Sherri Shepherd (@SherriEShepherd) October 18, 2015
Not long after, the school banned Kennedy from his ritual. The school told Kennedy he was not allowed to pray in public, mention religion in the locker room to the team, or bow his head or kneel on the field.
Despite the warnings, Kennedy continued to pray, kneeling and bowing his head. What he didn’t realize was that the opposing team, and many fans, had joined him on the field.
“He had no idea he was surrounded by the opposing team,” Sasser said. “It was a beautiful sight.”
“It was an amazing, amazing time,” Sasser continued.
The Bremerton school district issued a statement on Monday, revealing that Kennedy is still employed and his actions on Friday night are being reviewed.
“The district continues to hope that the district and Mr. Kennedy can arrive at common understandings that will ensure that the rights of all community members are honored and the law is respected,” district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said in a statement, KOMO News reports.
Kennedy spoke to reporters about his decision to continue his prayers. He explained that he was thanking God for everything he had done for him and asked him why he was chosen to be in the middle of the now national debate.
“I was thanking God for everything He’s done,” Kennedy said. “I don’t understand why You picked me for this. There are so many other people who are so much more qualified. I’m just an average guy…. If this was the last time I was on the field, I was going to give Him all the glory for it.”
— Seattle Times Sports (@SeaTimesSports) October 17, 2015
“I’ve got my eyes closed and I feel all these people around me. I’m like, God, I hope those aren’t kids,” the Bremerton football coach said. “I’m sitting there and I’m going, ‘God, thank you for this opportunity. And… if this is the last time I step on the field with these guys…'”
Kennedy, who was hired by the district in 2008, has never forced or asked his team to participate in the prayers. According to CNN, his prayers went unnoticed for a long time until the players started joining him. One of those players is Bremerton team captain Ethan Hacker, who is agnostic.
“It’s about unity. We can be mad at each other all we want during a game and get upset, but once the game is over, that all goes away,” Hacker said. “What (Kennedy) does brings us all together no matter how much we despise each other.”
[Photo via Shutterstock]