The Washington high school football coach who won a U.S. Supreme Court case after being fired for praying on the 50-yard line will be reinstated by March 2023.
Joe Kennedy and the Bremerton School District submitted a joint stipulation on Tuesday to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik of the Western District of Washington.
The parties both asked to reinstate Kennedy to his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023, according to court documents obtained by The Epoch Times.
However, the filing notes that the parties disagree on the wording of the stipulation that Bremerton School District “shall not interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from offering a prayer consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion.”
Both parties will file a joint submission on Nov. 8, with each side’s proposed wording on the disputed issues of the declaratory and injunctive relief and supporting arguments.
Attorneys from First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom, argued Kennedy’s case in the Supreme Court.
Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, said he’s glad Bremerton High School will welcome Kennedy back next spring.
“After the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Coach Kennedy praying by himself at the 50-yard line after games he coached was entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution, his return to the field was inevitable,” Dys said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
The court is expected to enter a final order in the coming weeks or months.
According to the filing, Bremerton School District will not be allowed to retaliate against or take any future adverse employment action against Kennedy for conduct that complies with the terms of the Court’s Order.
Kennedy is entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, according to the court filing.
Religious Freedom, Commitment to God
In June, the Supreme Court ruled 6–3 that the sacking of Kennedy, who is a Christian, violated First Amendment religious freedom protections.
Kennedy worked as an assistant football coach for a public high school in the Bremerton School District of Washington state until he was put on leave in 2015 for leading personal prayers at the 50-yard line after games.
He prayed quietly and alone at first, but students eventually noticed, and some asked to join. He told them, “This is a free country” and “You can do what you want,” according to First Liberty Institute (pdf).
Eventually, Kennedy also offered short motivational speeches to the players, followed by a prayer. These prayers appeared to go unnoticed by the school for seven years until the activity was reported.
The school district conducted an investigation and found that Kennedy had not “actively encouraged” participation but restricted his prayers to be kept “physically separate from any student activity.” He complied and stopped praying with the students.
He later requested religious accommodation under Title VII to kneel to say a brief personal prayer on the field after football games concluded. But the school district issued a sweeping new ban prohibiting Kennedy, or any employee, from engaging in any “demonstrative religious activity,” either silently or audibly.
Kennedy was only permitted to pray in a “private location within the school building,” such as an athletic facility or press box.
After the district denied his request for religious accommodation, Kennedy knelt alone at the 50-yard line after the next football game to say a brief, silent prayer. According to First Liberty Institute, he was unwilling to break his commitment to God.
He repeated the activity once more after the next football game, and although the school district said his actions “moved closer to what we want,” they still said it was unconstitutional and put him on administrative leave, and barred him from coaching.
School District Sought to ‘Punish’ Coach
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion for the court, to which all six conservative justices agreed (pdf). He said that Bremerton High School sought to “punish” Kennedy after he was put on leave in 2016.
Gorsuch said it was wrong for the school district to discipline Kennedy because it believed that anything less might lead a reasonable observer to mistakenly conclude that it endorsed the coach’s religious beliefs.
He noted that Kennedy offered his quiet prayers at times when students were “otherwise occupied” and when “school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters.”
“The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor,” Gorsuch wrote.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
All three liberal justices ruled against Kennedy. The dissenting opinion filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it was wrong for the Supreme Court to ignore that Kennedy repeatedly caused “severe disruption to school events.”