Bremerton Washington Football Coach Files EEOC Complaint Against School District That Won't Let Him Pray

Coach Joe Kennedy, who was suspended by Bremerton School District for silently praying after football games, files a charge of discrimination against the school district

Dec 15, 2015, 14:59 ET from Liberty Institute

BREMERTON, Wash., Dec. 15, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, Coach Joe Kennedy filed a charge of religious discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Bremerton School District. On October 28, the district suspended Coach Kennedy for silently praying alone at the fifty-yard line after high school football games.

In the charge, Coach Kennedy said, "[Bremerton School District] violated my rights to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting my private religious expression." (Read complaint: Filing an EEOC complaint is a final step Coach Kennedy must take before filing a lawsuit against the school district.

Coach Kennedy is represented by the national non-profit law firm Liberty Institute, as well as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Oldfield & Helsdon, PLLC, and attorney Anthony J. Ferate.

Mike Berry, Senior Counsel at Liberty Institute, says, "All we are asking is for Coach Kennedy to be allowed to pray alone—silently and briefly—at the fifty-yard line after the game."

Rebekah Ricketts, attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says, "We hope the EEOC takes this charge of religious discrimination seriously. We fully expect that Coach Kennedy's First Amendment rights will be vindicated."

Attorney Anthony J. Ferate noted, "When I took civics at Bremerton High School, I learned about freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Now the school district is denying Coach Kennedy the very things I was taught to cherish. I hope the district will do the right thing, rescind its stand, and respect Coach Kennedy's right to pray."


Case Background
Coach Joe Kennedy is head coach for the Bremerton High School junior varsity football team and an assistant coach for the varsity team. After his first football game in 2008, Coach Kennedy waited until the game had ended, then he walked alone to the fifty-yard line, took a knee, and thanked God for his players in a brief, quiet prayer. He continued this practice after subsequent games.

Coach Kennedy has prayed after football games for the last seven years. Bremerton School District admits Coach Kennedy did not encourage students to participate in his prayers—and no students, coaches, or parents ever complained. Nevertheless, in September 2015, the Bremerton School District sent Coach Kennedy a letter, ordering him to stop praying with players after the game. The school district later denied Coach Kennedy's request for a religious accommodation and announced that Coach Kennedy was prohibited from engaging in any visible religious expression while on duty.

After Liberty Institute advised the school that Coach Kennedy's prayers are constitutionally protected, Coach Kennedy continued to kneel at midfield and offer a brief, silent prayer by himself after football games, in compliance with Bremerton School District's September letter.  Bremerton School District responded that even praying silently by himself on the field is a violation of school district policy and eventually suspended Coach Kennedy the day before the last game of the season.

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SOURCE Liberty Institute