BREMERTON, Washington (LifeSiteNews) –– After a years-long legal battle, Christian high school assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy has been reinstated to his position and awarded nearly $2 million after he was fired for leading players in prayer after each game.
“Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season,” the Bremerton School District in Washington said in a March 6 statement on its website. “Mr. Kennedy has completed human resources paperwork and we are awaiting the results of his fingerprinting and background check.”
Less than two weeks after the announcement of his rehiring, the district announced March 16 that it had accepted a $1.78 million settlement with Kennedy.
The reinstatement and financial settlement comes nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and nearly eight years after his initial 2015 firing.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s June 27 majority opinion.
As previously reported by LifeSiteNews, Kennedy had prayed on the field without issue for seven years until the coach of an opposing team told Bremerton High School’s principal that Kennedy had asked the coach’s players to join in a post-game prayer, prompting a district investigation into Kennedy’s compliance with the school board’s religious policy.
After the school district told Kennedy his prayer may not have participation from students, he sent a letter from his attorney, Hiram Sasser, to the district informing them he would “resume his practice of saying a private, postgame prayer at the 50-yard line, since such speech would be protected by both the Free Speech Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.”
At subsequent games, Kennedy “waited until players were singing their fight song” after their games and knelt at the 50-yard line to pray with a bowed head, where he was “joined by players from both teams, members of the media and the public.”
He was thereafter placed on administrative leave by the school district, which cited a “failure to follow district policy.”
Kennedy filed suit against the Bremerton School District in August 2016 but was ruled against in several successive decisions before his case reached the nation’s highest court in 2022.