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Football Coach Was Sidelined for Praying – Now He’s Fighting Back

football-coachFrom – thedailysignal.com – By Kelsey Harkness

The high school football coach who was removed from his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games filed a federal complaint on 12/15/15 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing the school discriminated against him based on his faith, The Daily Signal has learned.

“I just don’t think it’s right, what the school district did,” Joe Kennedy, a football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington State, told The Daily Signal.

The whole idea of having to hide my faith where nobody can see me doing it … that doesn’t seem very American to me.

After refusing to comply with orders to stop kneeling at the 50-yard line and praying after games, Kennedy was put on paid administrative leave and was at risk of losing his job. He was banned from participating in any Bremerton football programs, allowed only to sit in the stands when games were open to the public.

The school offered to accommodate the coach’s right to exercise his religion by providing him with private locations to pray, such as the press box. Kennedy said that wasn’t the tradition he started eight years ago, when he began coaching football.

“When I started praying, I said I was going to give God the glory on the 50-yard line, and right after every game,” Kennedy said, adding:

Nobody should have to hide who they are, especially in a public school setting, where I’ve walked through and seen “practice diversity and acceptance” all through the hallways. We’re not showing that. We’re not leading by example as adults.

The school argued that praying is a religious activity and therefore violates the federal and state constitutional rights of students and others.

In a memo issued to the public by the Bremerton School District, they confirmed there is “indeed no evidence that students have been directly coerced to pray with Kennedy.”

In defense of their adverse actions against the football coach, the district cited a Supreme Court case where the judges ruled “that a school district’s practice of simply allowing its facilities to be used for religious expression during a district-sponsored football game violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because of the reasonable perception by students and attendees of district endorsement of religion.”

Mike Berry, a senior legal counselor at Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Kennedy in his case against the school, said filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a “necessary step for seeking vindication for Coach Kennedy’s rights.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the government agency responsible for enforcing federal employment discrimination laws.

Berry said in the complaint that they’re requesting two things: for the school to reinstate Kennedy as a football coach and to allow him to privately engage in religious expression by praying at the 50-yard line after games, “as guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.”

“That’s it,” Berry said. “Nothing more.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can address the complaint in a number of ways, including launching an independent investigation and issuing their findings in a determination letter.

The Commission can also go so far as to sue the school district themselves.

This happened when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for refusing to hire a Muslim teenager who wore a hijab and had applied to work at the clothing store.

The case landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices ruled 8 to 1 that Abercrombie & Fitch had discriminated against the woman for failing to accommodate her religious practices.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also brought a lawsuit against a trucking company for firing two Somalian-American Muslims truck drivers who did not want to transport alcohol because of their religious beliefs.

In October, a federal jury awarded the two drivers $240,000.

Berry, Kennedy’s lawyer, said he is “hopeful that the [agency] might do something similar here on behalf of Coach Kennedy as they obviously, very recently, have done on behalf of Muslim employees who also faced discrimination.”

Kennedy, who works full-time for the U.S. Department of Defense and is also a former Marine, calls being suspended from his job one of the “hardest things” he’s ever dealt with.

“My background is pretty diverse, being in the military, and one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is sit on the sidelines and actually watch my team play,” Kennedy said.

The first game he was sidelined for happened to be senior night.

“I have a kid that doesn’t have any parents, and he asked if I could stand with him like I do every year when they don’t have parents,” Kennedy said. “I wasn’t allowed to stand out there with one of my guys I’ve been coaching for years. I try to play a tough guy role, but that really tore me up inside.”

When the school placed Kennedy on paid administrative leave, the district issued a statement calling the action “necessary” for his refusal to comply with policies that ban “overt, public religious displays on the football field while on duty as a coach.”

“While the district appreciates Kennedy’s many positive contributions to the [Bremerton High School] 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,” the school district stated.

“For this reason, Kennedy will not be allowed to further violate the district’s directives.”

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6 years ago

I am so sick of everyone bashing Christianity. I agree with Rik maybe it is time for all Christians to start their own party and let the so called eliteist Republicrats and Demicans know who they really work for. They have taken this PC mentality way to far. It’s no wonder why our children are so screwed up. We and they have to walk around like we are on egg shells for fear we might hurt someones little feelings. No one can laugh at anything anymore.

Here we have a football coach, who, after the game is over, takes a knee on the 50 yard line to give thanks to God for a good game, for no one getting injured, for his chance to make a difference in some students life or just for being there and he gets punished for showing his faith. Shame on us! I’m sure if the coach was muslin and he or she fell to their knees on the 50 yard line to pray to Allah for whatever, the school district would say that’s okay. One, because they don’t want to be called out for being discriminatory and two, because they are afraid. I really dislike spineless people who fall back on discriminatory laws to punish or stop people from practicing their faith. We, Christians, need to start marching in the streets like all those who think they are discriminated against and raise our voices so we are heard and scare the s__t out of everyone.

Again, Rik, I agree with you, we should nominate obama for “Muslim of the Year for 2015”. He is about as two faced as you can be. He fits right in with all those in Washington DC.

I’m not afraid to say “MERRRY CHRISTMAS” to anyone. If I offend someone TS. MERRY CHRISTMAS to all the silent Christians out there, don’t be silent anymore.

6 years ago

This shouldn’t be a big surprise! … This all started when LBJ muzzled church leaders from speaking out about politicians and political issues. His gag order threatened churches with loss of their tax exempt status.

Funny, but the government never threatened to gag Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton though!

Christianity is under attack everywhere in America and church leaders seem silent. I recently emailed my Pastor a parody of awarding Obama with “Muslim of the Year for 2015” and he respectfully requested that I not email him anything political in the future. … It’ll take lawsuits, but mostly that LBJ law needs to be repealed!

I, personally, think it’s time for all Christians to form our own political party. Politicians who claim to be Christians to garner our votes but never seem to “practice” worshipping in church on a regular basis should be publicly called out as the “phony” Christians that they are, like Obama and Hillary, and 99% of all politicians are just as guilty. Showing up once a year at Christmas included. … No excuses!

6 years ago
Reply to  Rik

Unfortunately Rik, your Pastor’s response speaks volumes about where your Church’s priorities lie. It’s a common problem with many of the denominations these days. They value their tax exempt status more than anything else it seems.

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