Joe Kennedy: Bremerton Football Coach Prays On Field, Placed On Leave

Joe Kennedy, Bremerton football coach, made headlines earlier this month when he defied direct orders from the school district not to pray on the field following the games. Now, it is being reported by ESPN that Kennedy has been placed on paid leave after failing to follow the order.

Bremerton School District officials said in a statement late Wednesday night that assistant football coach Joe Kennedy’s leave was directly due to his failure to comply with their rules.

While Kennedy has been praying on the field for nearly eight years, it just recently came to the district’s attention, and they felt that his long-standing practice violates the Constitutional mandate for separation of church and state, according to a previous report by the Inquisitr. Kennedy’s prayers, inspired by the film Facing theGiants, started with him kneeling on the field alone. It wasn’t until later that players started joining him after the games.

While Kennedy originally agreed to the ban of prayer on the field, he started his routine back up after speaking to the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a religious-freedom organization. Kennedy once again took a knee mid-field and silently bowed his head for 15 to 20 seconds after shaking the player’s hands. Never has Kennedy forced any student to pray with him. If they do, it is of their own free will and choice.

“While the district appreciates Kennedy’s many positive contributions to the BHS football program, and therefore regrets the necessity of this action, Kennedy’s conduct poses a genuine risk that the District will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others. For this reason, Kennedy will not be allowed to further violate the District’s directives,” the district’s statement said.

Although Kennedy has been placed on paid leave, he is still technically employed by the school district, and as long as he remains employed, he will receive pay through the remainder of his contract. He is not, however, allowed to participate in any of the Bremerton football activities. He is allowed to attend the games as long as he attends them as a member of the public and not as a coach.

Following the district’s decision, Kennedy’s lawyer, Hiram Sasser, issued a statement of his own, calling Kennedy being placed on leave “surprising and shocking.” He said their next step will be to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We’re prepared to take the necessary legal actions to defend Coach Kennedy’s religious freedom,” Mike Berry, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, said, according to the Seattle Times. “His religious expression is not something he should hide or be ashamed of.”

The situation has drawn national attention, and on Tuesday, 47 members of Congress sent a letter of support for the coach to the district. Fourty-two members of the Seattle chapter of The Satanic Temple asked if they could have permission to hold an “invocation” at the game as part of its religious freedom. However, since Kennedy has been placed on leave, the members said they will still attend the game, but will not ask to do their invocation.

Do you think Kennedy should be allowed to pray on the football field? Do you agree with the Bremerton school district placing him on paid leave? Leave your comments below.

[Photo via Shutterstock]

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