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After Years Long Legal Battle, Joe Kennedy, Reinstated In Former Coaching Position

After a seven-year legal battle, coach Joe Kennedy, who faced discrimination for kneeling in prayer on the field following his team’s football games, has been reinstated to his position at Bremerton High School in Washington state.

A spokesman with the Bremerton School District told KOMO television in Seattle on March 13 that Kennedy had been given his job back as an assistant football coach at the high school for the 2023 season. 

“As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice, and other off-season football activities,” the school district wrote in an email to KOMO News. 

“It’s been a long road,” Kennedy told KOMO after receiving his reinstatement letter. “… A lot of people have been praying for this for a long time, and I think America is ready to just enjoy the religious freedom once again.”

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Kennedy spoke with KOMO from his hotel room in North Carolina, the latest stop on his speaking tour. His book, as well as a movie chronicling his case, are scheduled to be out this fall. 

The coach’s case began in 2015, when an employee of a different high school told the Bremerton High School principal about Kennedy praying at the 50-yard line after games, often with fans and students joining in. Soon after, the school district suspended him for praying on the field and later decided not to renew his contract because of his refusal to stop. 

Kennedy sued the school district in 2016, accusing them of violating his religious freedom.  

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the coach in 2017, and the Supreme Court initially refused to hear his case in 2019. Two years later, in March 2021, the 9th Circuit ruled against him again, saying there was no doubt that an objective observer, familiar with the history of Kennedy’s practice, would view his demonstrations as the Bremerton School District’s endorsement of a particular faith.

But Kennedy, along with his attorneys at First Liberty law firm, persisted, and in January 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case. 

Six months later, the Supreme Court sided with Kennedy in a 6-3 vote and and ruled that he must be reinstated to his job. 

“All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys,” Kennedy said after the ruling. “I am incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court, my fantastic legal team, and everyone who has supported us. I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.” 

Jeremy Dys, Liberty senior counsel, said at the time: “What he sought in that complaint was to be an assistant coach with Bremerton High School again and to be able to pray at the 50-yard line without risking his job.” 

Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel for First Liberty, hailed the court’s decision as a “tremendous victory for Coach Kennedy and religious liberty for all Americans.”

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and law have always said—Americans are free to live out their faith in public.” 

After the coach’s reinstatement was announced, Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel at First Liberty, said, “We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated.” 

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After a seven-year legal battle, coach Joe Kennedy, who faced discrimination for kneeling in prayer on the field following his team’s football games, has been reinstated to his position at Bremerton High School in Washington state.

A spokesman with the Bremerton School District told KOMO television in Seattle on March 13 that Kennedy had been given his job back as an assistant football coach at the high school for the 2023 season. 

“As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice, and other off-season football activities,” the school district wrote in an email to KOMO News. 

“It’s been a long road,” Kennedy told KOMO after receiving his reinstatement letter. “… A lot of people have been praying for this for a long time, and I think America is ready to just enjoy the religious freedom once again.”