Football Coach Suspended For Praying After Games Files Discrimination Complaint

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: Dec 20, 2015 3:30 PM
Football Coach Suspended For Praying After Games Files Discrimination Complaint

Earlier this year Joe Kennedy, a Washington state high school football coach, received national attention when he was suspended for praying after games at the 50-yard line. Kennedy’s tradition of praying quietly—and alone—after games began in 2008 when he was hired by the Bremerton school district. After awhile some of the athletes asked if they could join Kennedy and it grew from there.

In October all of that changed, however. The school district told Kennedy he had to not only stop praying with the athletes, but he also couldn’t even kneel down by himself at the 50-yard line anymore.

As a former Marine, Kennedy is used to fighting for the constitutional rights of all Americans, which is why he’s pushing back against the school’s decision to place him on paid administrative leave.

On Tuesday, he filed a discrimination complaint against the school district, claiming the district did not punish the team’s offensive coordinator for conducting Buddhist chants in a similar manner. 

“BSD violated my rights to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting my private religious expression and taking adverse employment action against me on the basis of my religion, notwithstanding my request for a reasonable accommodation that would allow me to practice my sincerely held religious beliefs,” Kennedy wrote in his complaint.

Liberty Institute said the school is guilty of three separate acts of discrimination — the first being the policy banning Coach Kennedy from his post-game prayers. They also took issue with the suspension of the coach as well as the negative performance review. 

Kennedy and Mike Berry, senior counsel for the Liberty Institute, sat down with Megyn Kelly this week to talk about the discrimination complaint and the ridiculousness of Kennedy’s case to begin with.

‘This is unbelievable,” Kelly said after listening to Kennedy relay what has transpired. “The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision came out about 15 years ago, said you can’t have certain prayers at school because it violates the Establishment Clause. Since when did they say a coach can’t have his own private prayer in his head?”

Berry agreed, and confirmed that the Supreme Court has never said that.

“This is his First Amendment right to engage in private prayer,” Berry added. “And we even asked if he could just do a moment of silence and the school even said ‘No, we think a moment of silence is also unconstitutional.’ I don’t understand why the school district feels the need bully this coach like this.”

Despite multiple attempts to meet face-to-face with the school administration, they have never agreed, according to Berry, which is why he said they’ve been forced to file the EEOC complaint.

“Isn’t it incredible how hard they are working to get any prayer, any connection with a force greater than yourself out of these school communities?” Kelly noted. “These school communities that we see are under threat from guns, [from] mass murderers, and the one thing that will not be tolerated is prayer, is God.”