HS Football Coach Vows to Continue Prayers Over Objections

PHOTO: Joe Kennedy, varsity football assistant coach for Bremerton High School in Washington state is fighting against a request sent to him by the Bremerton school district to cease leading pre- and post-football game prayers.KOMO
Joe Kennedy, varsity football assistant coach for Bremerton High School in Washington state is fighting against a request sent to him by the Bremerton school district to cease leading pre- and post-football game prayers.

A high school football coach in Washington State is pushing back against school administrators who are demanding that he stop leading post-football game prayers.

At the end of every Bremerton High School football game, coach Joseph Kennedy "walks to the 50-yeard line and speaks a brief, personal prayer, thanking God for the game for the players," according to a statement from the Liberty Institute, the legal organization that Kennedy retained "to represent him in this matter."

Kennedy, who is head coach of junior varsity football and assistant coach of varsity football, began the post-game prayers in 2008 when he was first hired by the school district, said the Liberty Institute. After a few games into the 2008 season, some students asked what he was doing, the legal organization added.

"I was thanking God for you guys," Kennedy replied, according to the Liberty Institute. "Then a couple said they were Christians and asked if they could join. I responded, 'It’s a free country, you can do whatever you want to do.'"

Kennedy has never received any complaints about the prayers, according to the Liberty Institute, but the football coach received a letter last month from the school district's superintendent, demanding him to stop.

In the letter, Bremerton School District Superintendent Aaron Leavell cited a district board policy, which said, "As a matter of individual liberty, a student may of his/her own volition engage in private non-disruptive prayer at any time not in conflict with learning activities. School staff shall neither encourage nor discourage a student from engagement in non-disruptive oral or silent prayer or any other form of devotional activity."

Leavell also cited two federal court rulings to support his case.

"Schools may not allow coaches to initiate, lead or supervise student prayer (Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Distr. 1995)" and that "schools may not even allow coaches to participate in or appear to endorse religious activity that is entirely student-initiated (Borden v. Sch. Dist. of the Township of East Brunswick 2008)," according to Leavell's letter.

PHOTO: Joe Kennedy, varsity football assistant coach for Bremerton High School in Washington state is fighting against a request sent to him by the Bremerton school district to cease leading pre- and post-football game prayers.KOMO
Joe Kennedy, varsity football assistant coach for Bremerton High School in Washington state is fighting against a request sent to him by the Bremerton school district to cease leading pre- and post-football game prayers.

At the end of the letter, the superintendent told Kennedy that he could "provide motivational, inspirational talks to students before, during and after games and other team activity" but that such talks "may not include religious expression, including prayer" so as "to avoid alienation of any team member."

The Liberty Institute responded to the school district with its own demand letter on Wednesday, claiming "there is no constitutional prohibition against Coach Kennedy’s private religious expression, regardless of whether students voluntarily come to the location where he is praying."

The legal organization added that Kennedy would continue his "private, post-game prayer" after Bremerton High School's homecoming game on Friday and "respectfully" requested that the school district "rescind" its directive in its original letter to Kennedy.

Leavell responded on the district website, saying that the district stands by what it previously said and that "we hope our coaching staff continues to stand by the earlier agreement and that Friday’s football game will focus on the hard work of our student athletes."

Kennedy was not immediately available to respond to ABC News' requests for further comment.

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