Joe Kennedy, a former high school football coach in Washington state, has returned to coaching after a seven-year legal battle over his public post-game prayers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his practice was protected by the Constitution, but Kennedy is uncertain about whether he wants to continue coaching.
He is due to coach his first game since 2015 and expects all eyes to be on him for a possible prayer.
The school district had initially placed him on leave and declined to renew his contract, citing concerns about government endorsement of religion. Kennedy’s case reached the Supreme Court last year, with the conservative majority supporting his cause. Kennedy’s life was transformed as a result of the legal battle, including writing a book and involvement in political events. Now, he is contemplating whether coaching football still fits into his life.
The Bremerton School District hopes to move past the distraction and focus on providing the best education for students. Kennedy will decide his future in coaching after the upcoming game, considering options like ministry.
Associated Press reports:
On Friday night, he is due to coach his first game since 2015, when he last pressed his knee to the turf at Bremerton High School’s Memorial Stadium. Everyone will be watching for him to pray again, he said.
“Knowing that everybody’s expecting me to go do this kind of gives me a lot of angst in my stomach,” said Kennedy, standing near midfield, where he intends to kneel when the game clock expires Friday. “People are going to freak out that I’m bringing God back into public schools.”
After asking Kennedy to keep any on-field praying non-demonstrative or apart from students, the school district placed him on leave and eventually declined to renew his contract. Officials said they were concerned that tolerating Kennedy’s public post-game prayers would suggest government endorsement of religion, in violation of the separation of church and state.
Kennedy’s fight to get his job back quickly became a cultural touchstone, pitting the religious liberties of government employees against longstanding principles protecting students from religious coercion.
He lost at every court level until the merits of his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The conservative majority sided with him, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing “the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
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