A high school football coach fired for praying in public must be reinstated and allowed to kneel in prayer under a final order issued by a federal court.
U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik issued his final order Thursday in the high-profile case of Joe Kennedy, who was not retained as a coach by Bremerton (Wash.) High School after he conducted post-game public prayers in 2015 in violation of a district policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Lasnik in June. He previously had lost at the district court and appeals court.
“Kennedy is to be reinstated to his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023,” Lasnik wrote. “... Bremerton School District shall not interfere with or prohibit Kennedy from kneeling at midfield to engage in a brief, quiet, personal religious ritual during the period after a football game in which the coaching staff are free to attend to personal matters.”
Further, the school district “must construe all District policies and procedures to permit” coaches to pray after games, Lasnik wrote.
Quoting the Supreme Court’s opinion, Lasnik said the school’s firing of the coach “violated Kennedy’s freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment.”
First Liberty, which represented Kennedy, applauded Lasnik’s order.
“All Coach Kennedy ever wanted was to be able to get back on the field with his guys and to say a quiet, personal prayer at the 50-yard-line after each game,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute. “We look forward to Coach exercising his freedom once again next season.”
Kennedy and the school district previously filed a joint stipulation agreeing that he should be reinstated.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the 6-3 majority opinion, said Kennedy sought to engage in a “brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment.”
“And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech,” Gorsuch wrote. “The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Dave Adamson
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.