BREMERTON, Wash. (BP) – A high school football coach whose right to pray at midfield following games was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court after he was removed from his job is to be reinstated by next spring.
In a 6-3 opinion in June, the high court ruled Joseph Kennedy did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion with his post-game prayers. Instead, the justices decided the Bremerton (Wash.) School District actually violated his First Amendment rights by removing him as a coach because of its concerns his practice infringed on the Establishment Clause.
In a joint filing Oct. 25 in state court, lawyers for Kennedy and the school district said the coach “is to be reinstated to his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023,” ABC News reported the next day.
Jeremy Dys – senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which is representing Kennedy – confirmed the agreement in a written statement provided to Baptist Press Friday (Oct. 28):
“When the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Constitution approved of Coach Kennedy’s practice of praying by himself for 15-30 seconds at the 50-yard line after the games he coached, his return to the field was inevitable. Coach is eager to join his guys on the field again, which has been his goal since the school district removed him in October of 2015. We are eager to see his return on or before March 15, 2023.”
A spokeswoman for the school district told ABC News that areas remain “where there are still questions” between the sides as to how Kennedy’s prayers will be accommodated in keeping with the high court’s decision.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which supported Kennedy in multiple friend-of-the-court briefs, welcomed the news.
“After years of litigation, Coach Kennedy will finally be reinstated and allowed to resume his important work of investing in the next generation without compromising his deeply held religious beliefs,” said Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager.
The commission “will continue to advocate – just as we did for Coach Kennedy – for the ability of all people of all faiths to live out their beliefs in the public square without fear of harm or retribution,” she told Baptist Press in written comments.
The ERLC joined in three friend-of-the court briefs in support of Kennedy, two urging the Supreme Court to review rulings by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and one in March calling for the justices to reverse the lower court. “The Establishment Clause, as properly interpreted, does not override the government’s duty to accommodate the free exercise of religion on a nondiscriminatory basis,” the March brief said.