What is usually a solitary postgame activity for Bremerton (Wash.) assistant football coach Joe Kennedy was anything but that Friday night.
Kennedy’s postgame prayer at the 50-yard line has become national news in recent days, and following his team’s 29-21 loss to Centralia (Wash.) the coach defied a school district order to abandon his religious ritual.
He did so surrounded by players from the opposing team, as well as coaches, supporters, politicians and throngs of media. Kennedy said he tried to time the prayer during the playing of Bremerton’s fight song as not to involve his own players in the controversy but was surprised to find himself surrounded by a group of rival players from Centralia.
“I was not going to include my kids because I would never jeopardize those young men that are out there because that’s what this is about. And I wasn’t expecting all those (Centralia) kids to be around, either.”
Kennedy initially agreed to abandon his practice at the school district’s request last month, but when the Texas-based Liberty Institute took up his cause in recent days he changed his tune, telling The Seattle Times, “I don’t know the Constitution, but I spent my years defending it.”
The former Marine has received widespread support, and was joined on the field by Republican state representative Jesse Young as well as a lawyer from the Liberty Institute.
Kennedy’s representatives argue he becomes a private citizen the moment the game ends, though the school district disagrees. In a statement, District Superintendent Aaron Leavell laid out his objections:
“I want to be clear — the District is in no way taking away an athletic coach’s freedom of expression. What we are doing is what every state-funded agency and school district must do: abide by the laws that govern us. Like every public school district in the nation, our teaching and coaching staff is not allowed to include religious expression, including prayer, in talks with students while on duty for the District.”
Liberty Institute lawyer Hiram Sasser responded with his own solution:
“The school district may resolve this issue by announcing a disclaimer that Coach Kennedy is acting in his private capacity and not as a representative of the school district.”
Kennedy knows he is putting his employment at risk, but he said he believes he is setting a good example in the process:
“I always taught my kids to do what’s right and fight for what you believe in.”